The African Trade Observatory (ATO) has begun testing an online trade platform designed to give real-time trade statistics to African users.

A statement on Thursday described the ATO as a mechanism being implemented by the International Trade Centre to help the new African Continental Free Trade Area function when it goes live in 2021.

The joint statement by the African Union, European Union and ITU is titled ‘Business-boosting African Trade Observatory to start virtual demonstrations’.

The statement said the online tool had been designed with the support of EU to help businessmen and businesswomen in Africa understand how best to trade between African countries.

According to the stakeholders, information such as intra-continental trade flows – traded values, traded quantities, the use of tariff preferences, taxes and fees paid at the border and market conditions will be available on the platform.

It said the transfer of raw data from providers to the ATO team would be automated where possible to make the collection of quantitative information sustainable.

The portal, according to the stakeholders, will be divided into three modules to allow users to compare trade opportunities in Africa; explore market access conditions of African partners; and monitor the implementation process and achievements of the AfCFTA.

The statement added that members of the ATO Steering Committee were presented with a beta version of the compare and explore modules on August 21, 2020.

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The statement said, “A first set of live demonstrations were organised in September and highlighted how users can compare challenges and opportunities of the African markets, and explore market access conditions and business partners to expand their business within the continent.”

The ATO Steering Committee includes representatives of the African Union Commission, the EU, ITC, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, and Regional Economic Communities, it said.

The acting ITC Executive Director, Ms Dorothy Tembo, said that timely trade data could positively impact policy and empower businesses.

She said that the ATO would be an essential tool in AfCFTA implementation, adding that RECs’ presence on the steering committee portrayed a united front supporting African regional economic integration.

The EU Head of Cooperation in Addis Ababa, Mr Thomas Huyghebaert, said, “The EU is committed to supporting the AU in its integration agenda, and ATO is one of the projects that it is supporting, which is a key operational tool to the AfCFTA.”

The EU had pledged an additional €5m to the ATO project to expand its scope by including additional modules on services, investment, and rules of origin.

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