Comesa is recommending adoption of a digital payment system that supersedes similar systems adopted in the bloc to avoid disputes arising from overlapping systems.
Plans are ongoing to introduce the payments platform for informal cross-border trade in the Comesa bloc, with EAC members Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda on board.
A public-private partnership dialogue is underway to discuss a draft model policy for the Comesa platform and specifically designed to benefit micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) under the bloc’s Digital Financial Inclusion Project.
The aim of the platform will be to further integrate informal traders into formal markets through better access to digital finance systems which are fast becoming the global norm.
The envisaged common regional scheme will be geared towards facilitating bottom-of-the-pyramid informal traders (cross-border and domestic) to carry out transparent, affordable and secured digital transactions.
Progress has been made in reaching an agreement on rules and guidelines for the platform and the adoption of a Comesa Digital Integrated Common Payment Policy and Framework for MSMEs.
Data was collected from the nine target countries in 2019 and 2020 to map out the suitability of available payment solutions across MSMEs requirements within each country and bridge existing policy gaps for a more harmonised bloc approach.
Interviews and field observations were conducted with banks, mobile network operators, payment system regulators, ministries of finance and ICT, fintechs, small- and medium-sized operators, regional manufacturing companies, cross-border associations, vendors and suppliers.
Other countries in the pilot were Ethiopia (Horn of Africa), Malawi, Zambia (Southern Africa), Mauritius (Indian Ocean), and Egypt (North Africa).
“But individual countries must agree on this. Each country is unique and has its own challenges, and some economically smaller countries would fear joining the bandwagon because of the need to protect their monetary system from imported risks,” says the findings report prepared by the Comesa Business Council based in Lusaka, Zambia.
“It is critical to analyse the various payment services and the respective countries’ policies, regulations guidelines and laws prior to developing a comprehensive policy for the region,” the report adds, noting further that discussions on legal constraints facing cross-border payments remained an outstanding issue.
Apart from their own national policies, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda also operate under the East African Payment System (EAPS) along with Burundi, another Comesa member state.
According to 2018 figures compiled by the Central Bank of Kenya, the EAPS handles $681 million worth of transactions annually.
Under EAPS, transactions are cleared through the respective central banks with the use of SWIFT, while local banks are required to maintain pre-funded accounts in all local currencies with the central banks facilitating settlements.