From its start, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) has sought to develop cooperation with local partners in the countries where it is present, through development projects related to good governance and democracy, environment and climate change, and economic development and employment. GIZ projects are supported mainly by the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), European Union institutions and other partner government organizations, while GIZ activities are based on the principle of sustainability.
The Macedonian E-Commerce Association together with GIZ and CEFTA started cooperation as part of the GIZ Open Regional Fund for Southeast Europe – Foreign Trade (ORF FT) project supporting the development of a regional e-commerce platform in the CEFTA region.
In a conversation with Ilir Rexha, project manager of GIZ for Project eCommerce, we share more about the work of GIZ in North Macedonia, the cooperation with the Macedonian E-commerce Association and other relevant partners, we analyze the current state of e-commerce and the challenges that stand in the way of further development, the development of the regional ecommerce4all platform and the support of various events in the region related to e-commerce.
AETM: The German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) as an organization offering services in the field of international cooperation for sustainable development is active in more than 102 countries worldwide. What are the activities of GIZ in North Macedonia focused on?
Ilir Rexha: Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) has been active in the country since 1992. In cooperation with local partners from the government, civil society and the private sector, we implement development projects in three thematic areas: good governance and democracy, environment and climate change and economic development and employment. GIZ projects are mainly supported by the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the European Union institutions and other partner government organizations. GIZ activities are based on the principle of sustainability. We believe that only by combining social responsibility, environmental balance and economic capabilities will the next generations be able to have a safe and dignified life.
AETM: GIZ is also supporting the increase of trade and competitiveness of businesses in the Western Balkans economies in general and on e – Commerce specifically. What is it about?
Ilir Rexha: Yes, indeed. On behalf of The German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the European Commission, the GIZ project Open Regional Fund for South – East Europe – Foreign Trade (ORF FT) supports the implementation of the reform agenda for trade and competitiveness in the CEFTA region in line with the requirements of the EU approximation process. The ultimate goal is supporting the creation of a common market. The project assists here, in various aspects, governmental agencies, enterprises, start-ups, and e-commerce organizations to create an environment withmakes easier and faster trade processes. We support the economies of the region to harmonize their legislative frameworks and enterprises to successfuly make use of the new rules and regulations. All activities aim to support the efforts of CEFTA parties in aligning key rules and procedures with the EU acquis communautaire, and to help and encourage companies to engage in regional e-commerce activities. We are happy that the German government and EU recognize the importance of the topic by providing additional funding for regional e-commerce support from 2022 onwards. This will allow us to scale up our support.
AETM: Ok, then let us talk about eCommerce in detail. How do you assess the current state of e-commerce in the region? What is working well? What are the main challenges? What are the benefits of a functional regional eCommerce market?
Ilir Rexha: As we see worldwide, also in the region the value of electronic commerce is growing constantly and shows already today its enormous potential for economic and social development by fostering innovation, introducing new trade models and consumer trends, and creating new job opportunities. The good news is also that Governments of the region have recognized this economic potential of e-commerce and therefore have given the support of e-commerce an important place in the Common Regional Market Action Plan (CRM AP), as well as, in the Central European Free Trade Agreement. Nevertheless, data shows that electronic commerce is compared to other markets still in a nascent stage in the region and trade volumes rather low. For example on average 10% of goods and services are purchased online today. This number looks even worse for businesses engaging in electronic commerce outside their local markets. The most mentioned hindering factors are here the delivery of physical products, customs procedures and a lack of online payment options causing inadequate high transaction costs and legal uncertainties. If we manage to tackle these challenges eCommerce consumers and providers will benefit equally from a larger market with lower transaction costs, less uncertainties and reduced prices.
AETM: An additional challenge for business is access to reliable information. Therefore the GIZ e-Commerce project supports the development of the platform ecommerce4all.eu. The platform is being implemented by the Macedonian e-commerce association in close cooperation with relevant organizations from the other CEFTA markets (Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro and Moldova). Can you tell us how this platform will serve the businesses from this region?
Ilir Rexha: The ecommerce4all.eu platform is on big cornerstone of the ORF FT eCommerce project to respond to the identified need of the private sector for detailed and clear information on the possibilities of national, regional and international e-commerce. The platform is currently under development and will comprise four modules. The first three modules will cover the key aspects of conducting an e-commerce business, such as information on legal and regulatory frameworks, online payment options, and delivery services. The fourth module will promote success stories and best practices in the region. The modules will be championed and managed by all organizations representing eCommerce businesses in the region and serve as the informational base for current and future e-commerce providers from the CEFTA economies. The launch of the platform is planned for autumn 2022
AETM: GIZ is also a main supporter of the first Macedonian Ecommerce Awards organized by AETM this year. Can you share with us what was the main reason for your support of the awards?
Ilir Rexha: The Macedonian Ecommerce Awards recognize the successful and hard work of Macedonian e-businesses. In addition, they encourage other companies and consumer to engage in e-commerce and to move their operations into the online world. Therefore, this initiative contributes very well to our efforts on raising awareness and building trust among consumers, governments, businesses, and the whole ecosystem on the potential of electronic commerce. In addition, the awards will also contribute to increase the competitiveness among e-commerce businesses and the further development of the e-commerce sector in North Macedonia. And they provide additional value to our efforts in promoting regional e-commerce as the field of opportunities for economic and social development.
AETM: Do you think that this initiative in North Macedonia will be incentive for other parties in the region? Do you plan to support similar initiatives in other countries?
Ilir Rexha: Let me emphasize that this is not the first time we are supporting such initiatives – we were for instance also partners of the last year’s 4th edition of the Macedonian Annual E-commerce Conference to allow the industry to gather in one place and start to exchange about the potentials of e-commerce in North Macedonia and in the region. We are also investing efforts and resources to support the establishment and growth of similar e-commerce associations in the region and strongly believe that initiatives like the Awards in North Macedonia will soon become a blueprint for other countries as well.