Botswana Trade Portal, the web-based cross-border trade facilitation tool that provides the business community with trade-related information on export, import and cross-border in Botswana, has been, to a certain extent, been hailed as a successful initiative, especially given the number of users who have utilised the service since it went live nearly ten years ago. Nonetheless, the Trade Portal which was developed by Botswana Trade and Investment (BITC) in collaboration with the World Bank has also had its own fair share challenges.

According to data sourced by Botswana Guardian this week, the Trade Portal’s users from 2016 to date, sits at 32 258. This is seen as remarkable growth compared to the 3 283 users recorded in the first year of operation. Responding to specific questions from this publication, BITC which manages the Trade Portal on behalf of Government, has disclosed that, during the first years of its existence, the portal was mostly used by locals. BITC Executive Director – Brand Management Kutlo Moagi says, “there was a spike in international usage from countries like India, the United States of America, Nigeria and the United Kingdom. During the 2022-23 financial year alone, the trade portal recorded 12, 897 users from India followed by Botswana with 6262 Users but in terms of enquiries received per country, Botswana was at the top with 17 enquires received followed by South Africa with 13,” revealed Moagi. The Centre was also quick to point out that, in addition to availing information on trade, the systems also serves as a point of inquiry on trade facilitation. “A number of enquiries have been received through Botswana Trade Portal of the business community looking for an array of things, some of which are business opportunities for local companies,” said BITC, which is also responsible for business facilitation.

In recent times, the Trade Portal has been of assistance to the international business community from as far as Turkey, India, and the United Kingdom and even locally. The inquiries range from trade agreements that Botswana has and their benefits, requirements for exports to the United Arab Emirates as well as United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), seeking Special Economic Zones Authority contacts. This week, Botswana Exporters and Manufacturers Association CEO, Mmantlha Sankoloba heaped praises on the Trade Portal, "for being a data hub for the business community to utilise." However, she said there is a lot that the Trade Portal can do, to ensure it is more efficient and beneficial. “There is need for the information on the Trade Portal to be updated consistently for it to be relevant to users,” she told Botswana Guardian on Tuesday. Sankoloba, whose members, exporters and manufacturers are regular users of the Trade Portal, also urged BITC to create more awareness on the portal so that the business community can know it better and eventually appreciates it importance. “They (BITC) have to work with us more so that they can also reach to our members. They haven’t done a lot of that as yet,” disclosed Sankoloba. BEMA is a business membership organization incorporating exporters, manufacturers, service providers and individuals in trade and export related areas.

BEMA aims to improve the competitiveness of Botswana’s manufacturing and export sectors into the region and international fraternity through tailor made services programs. The time is perhaps ripe for BITC, which operates the Trade Portal to benchmark with major economies such as Singapore. The latter’s TradeNet is often cited as one of the world's best trade portals. It's known for its efficiency, user-friendliness, and the seamless integration of various trade-related processes. According to available information, TradeNet has played a significant role in making Singapore one of the world's leading trading hubs. BITC itself has admitted the Trade Portal is not without hurdles. “Botswana Trade Portal has had its own fair share of challenges and one of them is keeping the platform functional and relevant. In terms of its functionality, the challenges at one point were around its data security which has since been resolved by our internal Information Technology Department,” noted Moagi.

The other challenge is to ensure that information on the portal is the most current. “This is continually being resolved through the Focal Persons' Committee made up of the technical resources from the different regulating bodies and Policy makers. The Committee above meets twice a year to discuss ways to improve efficiency of the system. Bilateral meetings with each Focal Organisation are also periodically held to review and update content in the Portal so that it remains relevant and up to date.” Plans are underway to redesign or revamp the system through the assistance of the World Bank. The upgrade brings in some new features to improve the general usage and outlook of the system, one of the features being a chatbot to improve interactions with the business community. One of the reasons for the existence of the Botswana Trade Portal is to make the doing business environment conducive and predictable by availing information on tariffs, duties procedures and processes to the business community free of charge. “This then makes it a lot easier for the business community undertaking any import – export activity to make informed business decisions compared to what was in the past. Instead of moving between offices looking for information one can simply log into the portal and search for import – export information on any commodity they are looking for. This does not only reduce costs for doing business but also helps businesses to meet timelines," stated Ms. Moagi.

Botswana Trade Portal has a functional team that coordinates the Focal Persons Committee. The committee is made up of the technical resources from the regulating bodies of Botswana, which include Botswana Unified Revenue Service (BURS), Botswana Bureau of Standards (BOBS) Ministry of Health, Botswana Medical Regulatory Authority (BoMRA) among others. The effectiveness of Botswana Trade Portal depends on various factors, including user-friendliness, content accuracy, integration with other systems, and ongoing improvements. Regular assessments and feedback from users will be key to ensuring the portal's success in promoting international trade in Botswana.