E-commerce is becoming an integrated part of the global economy, with revenue in business-to-business and business-to-consumer e-commerce transactions rapidly increasing. This development has prompted countries to introduce regulations to address the challenges of e-commerce faced by consumers, producers, service providers and governments. Of particular interest is the opportunities e-commerce offers entrepreneurs as well as small, medium and micro enterprises to reach a wider market and potentially link into cross-border value chains and tap into foreign markets. Considering the developmental constraints faced by many developing and least-developed countries in Africa, e-commerce and the productive use of the information and communications technology sector could help to address some of the systemic issues. However, Africa currently lacks comprehensive legislation to address the challenges faced by the sector. While domestic legislation needs to be cognisant of consumer protection in relation to distance selling, electronic transactions, cybercrime, data protection and privacy, developed countries have started to address these issues in plurilateral and regional trade agreements. Considering that the majority of e-commerce companies are currently based in developed countries, these progressive regional agreements could become the benchmark for cross-border e-commerce transactions and divert investment and trade away from non-members. This paper considers the nature of e-commerce, the environmental factors that affect the sector’s development and uptake, the current state of negotiations in the World Trade Organization, and how regulation is being shaped by the so-called mega-regional trade agreements. Based on literature review, a framework is provided to guide further studies on the measurement of e-commerce, the barriers affecting e-commerce, and the regulations that should be considered in developing a comprehensive enabling environment for e-commerce.
Authors: Heinrich Krogman and Nkululeko Khumalo