The nature of Covid-19 and its impact on economies underscores the need for countries to capitalise on e-commerce and strengthen development of policies for online purchases and supply, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has said.
In a report titled ‘E-commerce, trade and the Covid-19 pandemic,’ the WTO says e-commerce can support small businesses by making economies more competitive and be an economic driver for both domestic growth and international trade.
“The Covi-19 pandemic has made it clear that e-commerce can be an important solution for consumers in times of crisis, and that it is also an economic driver, including for small businesses.
“The pandemic has also highlighted not only the importance of digital technologies in general, but also several vulnerabilities across the world,” reads the report in part.
The WTO, however, notes that obstacles such as networks disruptions and accessibility hamper greater participation in e-commerce activities in particular in least developed countries, like Malawi, a development that calls for the need for efficient and affordable information and communications technology (ICT) services.
As it stands Malawi remains by far among the least countries for e-commerce penetration 76, ranking position 140 out of 152 on the global index, according to a latest United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad).
The 2019 Unctad’s Business-to-Consumer (B2C) E-commerce Index, which scores 152 nations on the access to secure internet servers, the reliability of postal services and infrastructure and the portion of their population that uses the internet, indicate that Malawi moved seven steps from position 133 the previous year.
Government has however adopted new measures, and the private sector has also acted, to respond to and ensure that e-commerce helps to alleviate some of the challenges faced in combating the virus.
Last month President Peter Mutharika in his address to the nation directed mobile network operators to reduce fees and charges on all electronic money transactions as a measure to make use of digital platforms affordable and to promote electronic money transfers.
The mobile network operators in the country have since removed transaction fees applicable for some services offered on their mobile platforms after reaching an agreement with the Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) to promote development of a digital financially enabled society whilst combating Covid-19 spread.
Similarly, commercial banks in the country have also effected a 40 percent discount on its digital platforms as means of encouraging use of digital platforms and making access to banking services affordable.