The 31st of October 2018 may well go down in history for ushering in a new, exciting digital age of Africa-China international trade. The date marks the launch of the Alibaba-led Electronic World Trade Platform (eWTP) project in Africa. Rwanda was the first African nation to join the initiative by entering into a partnership agreement with Alibaba Group, followed by Ethiopia who joined in December last year.
The eWTP aims to “lower barriers to global trade for small and medium-sized enterprises through e-commerce”. It promises to provide these enterprises with tools to aid their success in entering the digital marketplace such as cloud computing, mobile payments and logistics.
During a panel discussion with Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Alibaba Founder Jack Ma in the session entitled ‘Digitalising Emerging Markets’ at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos on 23rd Jan 2019 President Kagame elaborated upon the benefits of eWTP. He applauded the project for facilitating tariff-free trade for transactions of less than 1 million U.S. dollars.
The exciting potential of the eWTP partnership was unearthed this week when the Embassy of the Republic of Rwanda in Beijing took part in a livestream on online retail platform Tmall with influencer Ms Cherie. The event, organised in partnership with the Alibaba Group, was an opportunity to introduce the Chinese market to Rwandan Coffee brand, Gorilla Coffee.
The coffee brand has become known as a pioneer in corporate social responsibility through its Beyond Fair Trade policies, employing a social business model that “assures a certain profit value goes back to coﬀee farmers, and the other goes back to the development of the coﬀee sector in Rwanda”. This exceptional Rwandese brand remains connected to the community by helping thousands of farmers through their business.
The Ambassador of Rwanda to China H.E. James Kimonyo said that the purpose of the eWTP project is to support the development of the digital economy in Rwanda and make it easier for Rwandan companies to participate in global trade.
After just five minutes of live streaming and within a few minutes of coming offline, over 2000 packets of Rwandan coffee were snapped up by online buyers, showing the potential for further collaborations between African businesses and Chinese influencers.
Known as ‘live shopping’, celebrities and influencers across China have found success in promoting products to their followers and subscribers while simultaneously providing them with opportunities to purchase items as they appear on the screen.
The phenomenal success of the activity sets a precedent for online International trade and offers a blueprint for other countries and companies seeking to sell goods in the massive Chinese online market. What Rwanda, through the eWTP, has managed to achieve in a few minutes is indicative of the thirst across China for African products.
Trade between Africa and China has been increasing steadily over the last few years, having grown from US$765m to US$170bn over the past four decades, representative of a 200-fold increase. Successes such as Rwanda’s in promoting Gorilla Coffee through eWTP show that this trend is likely to continue on this upward trajectory – a trend many African nations will be looking to tap into as 2020 proceeds.
Runako Celina is the co-founder of Black Livity China. She holds an MA in International Politics and African Studies from Peking University. She spent two years working for China's largest Digital TV platform broadcasting in African countries and currently lives and works in Beijing. During her time at Peking University, she sat on the committee for the Peking University Africa Think Tank.