December 29, 2017: Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) is looking to roll out a digital free trade area - the first in Africa - modelled along the Malaysian Free Trade Zone, where parties to a transaction are connected in real time through a web of ledgers that are secure. The application also supports generation of an electronic certificate of origin whose authenticity can be verified using national information technology systems.

According to news reports from Africa, this will mark the beginning of moving away from the current practice of manual applications and document submission to tax bodies and other government agencies that was causing businesses delays.

As per the reports, Comesa spokesman Mwangi Gakunga has indicated that the rollout of the Digital FTA will happen in 2018. Last month, Comesa completed the design and action plan of the Digital Free Trade Area, the Electronic Certificate of Origin (e-CO) and their draft regulations.

The piloting of the digital FTA is expected to start in 15 of its 19 member states, enabling large and small enterprises alike to trade using their smartphones and tablets.

According to Comesa Secretary-General Sindiso Ngwenya, the digital economic integration will do away with long queues at border posts for goods and people moving across borders.

The participating countries are Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Ethiopia, Egypt, Seychelles, Malawi, Mauritius, Madagascar, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe, which are all part of Comesa's Simplified Trade Regime that allows traders with goods valued at $1,000 or less to access cross-border markets duty free.

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