Coronavirus – Africa: Electronic trade rekindling sales for African businesses during COVID-19

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Imagine using one second to sell three thousand (3000) bags of a coffee produce which lay fallow hitherto in storehouses in Rwanda for months due to freighting stand-stills caused by the COVID-19 global lockdown!

This is what happened on 14 May 2020 during a livestream by coordinated by the Alibaba Business Group to position small-scale world brands on the Electronic World Trade Platform (eWTP), a the six-year-old initiative which facilitates business-to-consumer (B2C) sales.

The UN Economic Commission for Africa is helping to bring unique African products and their promoters to the platform in a practical COVID-19 response move.

The sale was made by the Rwandan brand known as Gorilla's Coffee whose CEO, Mr. David Ngarabe, rejoiced at the feat following months of slack business as the COVID-19 lockdowns ruptured the supply chains especially to cafés and hotels.

The cash-in is explained in terms of the wide reach to customers especially in China via the eWTP whose huge demand, in terms of economies of scale, would now lower overall freighting costs for the supplies.

Ms. Vera Songwe, Under-Secretary-General of United Nations and Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), who addressed participants of the livestream from Addis Ababa, said the Commission was taking action to getting many more small brands from Africa with distinct products to access the platform and make sales during and after the current health crisis. 

“COVID-19 is particularly endangering global trade. That is why I am very happy to be part of this Electronic World Trading Platform (eWTP) initiative with the Alibaba business group” she said.

“Africa, which has already been trading with China, can improve trading at this time based on a number of goods on which it possesses comparative advantage.

“Rwanda is already trading its Rwandan chili and Coffee. We hope that with the eWTP, we can put more goods from the continent notably, coffee from Ethiopia, Shear Butter from Mali, white pepper from Cameroon, Vanilla from the Comoros Islands and Saffron from Madagascar, among others, on the platform,” she told her viewers. Senegal’s peanuts are also on the discussion table.

Mr. Eric Jing, Alibaba Group Director and Executive Chairman of Ant Group said “We want to support SMEs worldwide to recover from the outbreak, resume production and secure orders in their times of need,” as he rallied support for brands such as Rwanda’s Gorilla's Coffee.

“Through today's livestream, we look forward to reopening global trade, starting with helping businesses reopen,” he went on.

In concordance, Ms. Vera Songwe of ECA added that “at a time when the world is closing down, it is particularly important that we continue with trade because that’s the only way we can build a prosperous world and a prosperous Africa, together with China.

“As Africa thinks about building and strengthening its trade with itself, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) remains the cornerstone of Africa’s trade relationship with itself and the world.

“We believe that with the opening up of the Electronic World Trade Platform (eWTP) to more countries on the continent, we can do more together to ensure that no one is left behind from the COVID-19 crisis.”

First proposed by Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma in 2016, the eWTP has been recognized by the G20 and launched in China, Malaysia, Belgium, Rwanda and Ethiopia.

It is a private sector-led, multi-stakeholder initiative offering SMEs easier access to new markets via simple and straightforward regulations.

It also offers training and support in areas such as e-commerce, logistics, financing, cloud computing and mobile payments.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).

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