The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) presents a window of opportunity for regional businesses and public entities to harness widening digital or electronic trading gains.
Electronic (e) commerce has recently become a huge part of the global economy with businesses riding on digital resources to sell their products or services online.
The outbreak of Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown measures has given e-commerce higher impetus, as businesses were able to remain operational, taking advantage of the ability to reach more customers through contactless means than traditional retail.
With so many people migrating to online and projected to make their purchases remotely, experts view e-commerce as the fastest-growing retail market.
The operationalisation of the AfCFTA in January this year has come in handy for those businesses with a keen focus on digital trading.
Zimbabwe is already seized with the idea with the Government exploring the possibility of introducing mobile addresses and using drones for courier deliveries, among other electronic substitutes for the country’s post offices in line with global trends.
Under this drive, post offices dotted around the country are being transformed to offer e-commerce and e-government services.
Kenyan start-up, Taz Technologies, the firm behind digitised mail service technology application MPost, for instance, has become one of the champions, having announced plans to speed up its digital trade expansion into the Sub-Saharan region by riding on the AfCFTA.
Speaking during a recent ‘trade forward’ podcast organized by the International Trade Centre (ITC), a joint agency of the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation, Taz Technologies chief executive officer, Twahir Mohamed, said their company is ready to venture into Uganda, South Africa, Rwanda, and Burundi in their first expansion phase.
“We have already closed an agreement with Uganda, and we are currently in talks with the South African Post Office, with potential of having an agreement by the end of the year,” he said.
Under its focus, South African small businesses would be part of the entities in the sub-Saharan region that benefit from the MPost Tap-A- Delivery innovation leveraging on opportunities from the AfCFTA.
“Small businesses can leverage MPost as pick up and drop off agents. They can further earn income when customers use their space through storage fees,” said Mohamed.
MPost is a patented technology enabling any mobile phone user to transform his or her phone into a unique mobile postal box at an affordable annual fee.
Through a configuration of exclusive partnerships with the national postal services of countries around the world, users can register themselves with the business to send and receive mail and parcels.
Its expansion plan is set to be phased with the first phase rolling out into 10 more countries over the next two years.
According to Mohamed, Taz Technologies aims to scale-up and replicate its achievement in Kenya to other countries in Africa through leveraging on support through programmes such as ITC’s One Trade Africa. The programme seeks to address non-tariff measures, simplify cross-border trade transactions, and improve the business ecosystem at both, national and regional levels with a focus on the AfCFTA.
“Our goal for businesses like Taz Technologies is to equip them with skills and knowledge on the AfCFTA to effectively expand their business across the continent,” said Aissatou Diallo, AfCFTA senior coordinator at ITC. ITC’s One Trade Africa initiative contributes to boost e-commerce opportunities and create a ripple effect for small business owners seeking to digitise their business operations by using technologies such as those offered by MPost. African consumers will also benefit with easier access to more products and have the assurance they will receive their products in good time and through a safe delivery process.”
Taz Technologies has partnered with the Postal Corporation of Kenya (PCK) to provide virtual postal addresses. This gives MPost customers the ability to collect their parcels or letters at over 600 postal offices in that country.
In addition to the mail services, MPost also enables users to pay for goods and services as well as send and receive money via e-banking services.
Dan Kagwe, the PCK chief executive and postmaster general said the new frontier for the postal services sector was e-commerce and logistics, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic era where customers are keen to trade with minimal physical contact.
“To shore up our fortunes in a digitalised economy where mail volumes have plummeted, we are now leveraging the advent of digital globalisation through modern technologies and strategic partnerships,” said Kagwe.