Digitalization brings new opportunities in trade and creates the potential to underpin resilience in times of crisis. The digital transformation of customs and borders in Africa could improve efficiencies in processes and yield trade gains on the continent of $20 billion a year (https://bit.ly/3cXzIgY). With digital trade in place, pre-existing bottlenecks in infrastructure can be tackled, efficiencies can be leveraged, and Innovative solutions can be harnessed. However, countries in Africa vary greatly in their readiness for digital trade.
In African countries where economic resilience must be fostered, jobs must be created and entrepreneurship must be facilitated, digital trade must be in full swing.
How digital automation is easing the flow of trade
Thanks to technological advances, importing and exporting goods and services in Nigeria has become easier thanks to the rise of online international trade administration portals (https://bit.ly/3cWv8j1). These online portals automate the experience for many stakeholders including customs officials, businesses importing finished goods and raw materials for manufacturing, and those exporting their goods across the globe.
Blockchain technology, Artificial Intelligence (AI), state-of-the-art payment solutions, fraud detection and prevention, and warehouse management solutions, are helping to increase the ease of trade, streamlining border management, and identifying, and potentially overcoming issues that impact timeframes, logistics and transportation.
Using a platform of this type, such as Webb Fontaine’s Single Window for Trade, provides clients (https://bit.ly/3d8IwAC) with a wide spectrum of up-to-the-minute information including trade formalities, import and export procedures, latest tariff codes and rates, as well as fee simulation features. Businesses can fill in pre-arrival applications, official documents (such as Customs declarations, permits and licenses), applications and manifests, while ensuring all fees and taxes are taken care of through e-payment functionality on the same site.
Acting both as a transactional portal, and data collector, Single Window can cross-check credentials for consistency and traceability, reducing errors and fraud. The status of ongoing document processing can be viewed in the Single Window at any time, including on mobile devices.
Ensuring the flow of trade against any challenge
Trade’s digital automation has proven to be a valuable safeguard under the harshest conditions. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many industry experts predicted a downturn in fortunes for the import and export industry due to the effects of global lockdowns on supply chains (https://pwc.to/3P11HK7). Through the leveraging of import/export platforms such as Single Window, Nigeria was able to weather this storm as operations continued unabated.
While many borders were closed, Nigeria’s ports remained open and thanks to customs operations running through online trade platforms, and the national lockdown had no negative impact on import/export revenue collection (https://bit.ly/3QjM0Pc). The Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) recorded a record revenue raise, generating 1.5 trillion Naira (https://bit.ly/3zBCEYr) – its highest revenue generated in a single year. Not only was this a testament to the positive impact digital transformation and automation have had on NCS operations, it inspired other agencies to seek automation and digitization. It also made it clear to the federal Government that more could be done, setting the NCS a target of 3.01 trillion naira (https://bit.ly/3bshzYx) in revenue collections in 2022.
The flexibility afforded by digital import/export platforms have increased SMEs agility across the continent. The platforms are easy to use, and customs officials and traders are empowered to operate from any location, if they have access to a PC, or mobile phone, and an internet connection.
How digital trade platforms are giving SMEs the advantage
One of the many lessons learned from the pandemic (https://bit.ly/3vJp6ZD) is that SMEs need to embrace digital transformation, not just to weather unplanned challenges, but because it will help them be more competitive and stable. Digital enablement is not just a means of survival, it is a way for SMEs to conduct business more efficiently, which in turn can empower them to expand their operations and earnings further.