17 Nov 2023    Working Papers

E-commerce Provisions in Regional Trade Agreements and what they mean for African MSMEs

WTI Working Paper No. 08/2023 by Martin Luther Munu


The e-commerce negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO) are taking place at a time when other members already have entered into Regional Trade Agreements (RTAs) covering e-commerce. As of 19 July 2022, there are 193 RTAs with e-commerce chapters.[1] The most relevant RTAs with e-commerce chapters include the United-States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA),[2] the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (CPTPP),[3] and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)[4] and the European Union (EU)-United Kingdom (UK) Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA).[5] The United States is the world's largest digital market,[6] while both CPTPP and RCEP Parties, combined are large economies,[7] with huge populations.[8] The UK and EU are big players in services trade and data flow, which is central to the digital economy. The regulatory agreements regarding the free flow of data and data protection between the EU and UK have a significant economic and social impact, affecting digital trade on a global scale, including in Africa, given that 11.5% of global cross-border data flows pass through the UK, of which 75% are with the EU.[9]

This chapter examines the e-commerce chapters of the four RTAs enumerated above with the aim of identifying the main provisions, and the spill-over effects of these RTAs on ongoing WTO e-commerce negotiations as well as on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) negotiations. Section 2 presents a brief typology of e-commerce regulation approaches shaping the RTAs, while section 3 highlights an overview of USMCA, TPP, RCEP, and TCA. Section 4 analyses the spillover effects of e-commerce provisions in RTAs on African Micro, Small, and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs), while section 5 examines the effect of RTAs on e-commerce negotiations at the WTO and what they mean for African MSMEs. Section 6 provides a conclusion.

About the author

Munu is a PhD Candidate at the Institute for Globalisation and International Regulation (IGIR), Faculty of Law, Maastricht University. His research focuses on e-commerce negotiations at the WTO and their potential impact on micro, small and medium-sized enterprises' growth in African countries. At Maastricht University, he taught and supervised students in various courses namely: International Relations: Themes and Theories; Skills: Legal Research and Reasoning; and International Trade Law: Globalisation Trade and Development. Previously, he worked with the Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC) in Uganda researching on trade and regional integration issues and the Southern and Eastern African Trade, Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI) on bilateral and multilateral trade negotiations. Munu has attended and made several presentations during stakeholder initiatives seeking to promote development outcomes in the multilateral trading system. He also worked with Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS) International, Nairobi on trade and development issues.​​


[1] WTO, “Regional Trade Agreements Database”, available at: http://rtais.wto.org/UI/PublicMaintainRTAHome.aspx (last accessed 19 May 2022).

[2] USMCA (2020): Agreement between the United States of America, the United Mexican States, and Canada, 1 Jul 2020 [hereinafter USMCA].

[3] CPTPP (2018) Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, 8 Mar 2018 [hereinafter CPTPP].

[4] RCEP (2020) Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, 15 Nov 2020 [hereinafter RCEP].

[5] TCA (2020) The EU–UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, 30 Dec 2020 [hereinafter TCA].

[6] Leblond (2022) “USMCA Forward: Building a More Competitive, Inclusive, and Sustainable North American Economy – Digital”, available at: https://www.brookings.edu/essay/usmca-forward-building-a-more-competitive-inclusive-and-sustainable-north-american-economy-digital/ (last accessed 31 July 2022).

[7] Government of Australia Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, “CPTPP Text and Associated Documents,” Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, available at: https://www.dfat.gov.au/trade/agreements/in-force/cptpp/official-documents (last accessed May 19 2022).

[8] Government of Australia Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, “Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership,” available at: https://www.dfat.gov.au/trade/agreements/in-force/rcep (last accessed 12 May 2022).

[9] Borchert and Morita-Jaeger (2021), Petropoulos (2020), pp. 8–9.

E-commerce Provisions in Regional Trade Agreements and what they mean for African MSMEs