Nairobi, Dec. 15, 2023: In recent years, amid a sluggish global economy, an increasing number of African countries have recognised the digital economy as a pivotal driver for their development, the Deputy Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Zhang Xiangchen said.
Zhang maintained that China, with close connections to Africa, has naturally emerged as a crucial partner in propelling the continent’s digital economy and realising its modernisation aspirations.
The deputy director-general of the WTO disclosed this in an interview with Xinhua in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital.
According to Zhang, in the process of economic globalisation, there exists an imbalance in the distribution of interests between the Global North and the Global South.
He noted that in the face of the aforementioned scenario, developing countries, especially African nations, have reaped limited benefits.
He added that developing the digital economy is a crucial pathway to gaining advantages in international competition in the future.
The WTO top official explained that developing countries, including those in Africa, should benefit from “re-globalisation” distinguished by its emphasis on digitalisation.
“Africa has a vast market, a sound market environment, and the youngest population globally,” he said, adding that these “are advantages for Africa to develop the digital economy.”
However, research conducted by the WTO found that African countries have a relatively low share of global digital trade.
“Africa’s slower pace in digitisation primarily stems from the digital gap, including deficiencies in digital infrastructure, lack of knowledge and skills for digitalisation and regulations,” said Zhang.
“If these issues can be addressed in African countries, I believe Africa will catch up in this field,” he added.
He said that China’s long-standing relationship with Africa holds significant value in terms of sharing development experiences.
In recent years, guided by mechanisms such as the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation and the Belt and Road Initiative, an increasing number of Chinese companies have continuously expanded their investments in Africa.
In countries like Nigeria and Kenya, Chinese-funded enterprises have established mobile payment platforms, providing secure and convenient digital payment services to millions of users. Additionally, Chinese e-commerce platforms enable many African people to sell distinctive products worldwide without leaving their homes.
While the digital economy can be a country’s competitive advantage, “the digital economy cannot entirely replace traditional industries such as manufacturing, especially for African countries that have not yet completed industrialization. The digital economy is one of the drivers for growth,” he said.
“While African countries develop the digital economy, they should also strengthen their manufacturing sector to achieve industrialization as soon as possible,” he added.
Zhang highlighted China’s initiatives for supporting Africa’s industrialization, agricultural modernisation, and talent development, saying that these will further drive Africa’s economic and social development.
He anticipated that an increasing number of Chinese companies are poised to invest in Africa, thereby expediting Africa’s digital transformation.
One of the major challenges for Africa in achieving digital transformation is education, Zhang said.
“Africa needs a significant number of skilled young individuals engaged in digital-related work.
“Therefore, cooperation between Africa and China on talent development is crucial,” he stated.
“China is a reliable friend to Africa, and their cooperation will continuously provide momentum for Africa’s development of the digital economy,” Zhang said.