The  Data and Artificial Intelligence for African Trade Initiative  is a consortium of European and African-based scholars and practitioners who focus their research, teaching and policy making to develop and promote data-driven decision-making tools for the expansion of inclusive and sustainable trade between the continents. 

We believe that this would contribute to global sustainable development, inclusing furthering  the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDGs #1 and #8 (poverty reduction  and growth- trade can be a powerful engine of growth and poverty reduction); SDG #13 (climate action - green trade can make a  significant contributor to reduce greenhouse gas emissions); and SDG#5 (gender equality - access to export opportunities can empower women entrepreneurs). 


Knowledge gap

This would fill a current gap in research, policy making, trade facilitation and international development aid as far as the relationship between trade and technology in the economic relations between Europe and Africa is concerned. Of concern in this relationship is the existence of a digital divide and unutilised and underutilised opportunities for exports from African countries to Europe. For example, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent disruption of global supply chains, we pointed out that if one EU country, The Netherlands, would divert its imports of non-oil (mainly in mineral and related commodities) from Russian to African countries, it would amount to an addition demand of US$ 44 billion for African goods, which is more than 9 times the size of The Netherlands' foreign aid to the continent. 

Threats and opportunities

With wars, the pandemic, trade and technology "wars" heralding in an era of de-globalization, it is more important than ever that African countries maintain and increase their access to international markets  - while at the same time growing intra-Africa trade given the recent establishment of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).  This will require a greater focus than before on strategic industrial and trade policies. Herein, trade facilitation and international aid coherency still has to make full use of the rise in big data, data analytics and digital technology.

Big data

The UN-COMTRADE database contains import and export data for 225 countries and territories collected for all products traded, classified into roughly 6500 categories, and collected monthly, thus generating almost 4 billion unique records every year.

The richness of this data can be used to support international entrepreneurship in African countries,  facilitating their export-led growth and expanding their access to European markets.  Moreover such data could help support exports of environmental goods, reductions in the carbon footprint of exports, as well as gender-responsive trade and investment. And, on top of these, it will allow European countries to diversify their supplies of critical inputs - from fuels to minerals to agricutltural products.

Advanced data analytics

Finding valuable information on  new export opportunities in the UN-COMTRADE database, however, requires advanced data science techniques, including application of filters, algorithms, and trend analyses. Recent advances in artificial intelligence (AI), including Machine Learning (ML) and Natural Language Processing (NLP) offer new tools to find new export opportunities (`needles in haystacks’) and to match exporters and importers (`matching balls and bins’).

The Data and Artificial Intelligence for African Trade Initiative will, through five work programs, aim to make a start towards raising the capabilities and tools to use advanced data analytics to help find new, sustainable and inclusive opportunities for growing Africa's exports to the EU.

Data and Artificial Intelligence for African Trade Initiative

Room AL2.05, Áras Na Laoi, University College Cork, Ireland, T12 K8AF