By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions
It was announced in January 2014 that China has surpassed the United States to become the world’s number one trading nation, as measured by the total value of exports and imports. This new economic behemoth also continued to grow its trade relationships with Africa.
US exports and imports of goods totaled US $3.82 trillion in 2013, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. China’s annual trade in goods passed US $4 trillion for the first time in 2013 (Guardian).
Zheng Yuesheng, a spokesman for China’s customs administration, told The Guardian that becoming the world’s number one trading nation was “a landmark milestone for our nation’s foreign trade development.”
Significantly for Africa, 2012 was also a record year for China-Africa trade, which reached 5 per cent of China’s total foreign trade and made up 16 per cent of all of Africa’s international trade, according to a new report from South Africa.
Consultancy Africa Intelligence (consultancyafrica.com), a South African-based organization with more than 200 consultants focused on “expert research and analysis on Africa” highlights the achievements of this strong trade relationship – and also some of its threats and weaknesses – in its report.
Trade between China and Africa has surged during the decade since China joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) (wto.org) in 2001, rising from around US $10 billion in 2000 to US $198.49 billion in 2012, according to China’s Ministry of Commerce. Ambitiously, it could reach US $300 billion by 2015, announced Cheng Zhigang, secretary-general of the China-Africa Industrial Cooperation and Development Forum (www.zfhz.org) (China Daily).
The World Bank reported South-South trade now surpasses South-North trade, meaning exports from developing countries to other developing countries exceed exports to wealthy developed countries. South-South trade experienced rapid growth in the 2000s, accounting for 32 per cent of world trade by 2011 (World Bank).
South-South trade and investment between Africa and lower-income and middle-income developing countries rose from 5 per cent in the 1990s to almost 25 per cent in 2010 (Consultancy Africa Intelligence). Before the 1990s, over 90 per cent of trade for Africa was with high-income or developed countries.
China is attractive as a trade partner for many reasons. One of them is the strong admiration for its success in lifting millions out of poverty through an aggressive growth strategy and rapid urbanization with big investments in education, science, technology, infrastructure – modern airports, ports, roads and rail – and research and development.
Since 1978, it is believed China has lifted 500 million people out of poverty, out of a population of 1.3 billion people (World Bank). Incomes have doubled every 10 years with average GDP growth of 10 per cent a year, meaning the country has almost reached all the Millennium Development Goals.
Building a trade relationship with China has led to Zambia’s copper mines running again, Gabon’s oil fields being re-explored, and Sudan becoming a major oil exporter to China. Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Equatorial Guinea, Republic of Congo and South Africa are all benefiting from exporting commodities to China.
The relationship has not been entirely beneficial, according to the Consultancy Africa Intelligence report. Some African industries, such as textiles, have suffered from competition with cheaper Chinese imports, leading to factory closures and job loses.
Non-commodity exports from Africa to China amounted to just 10 per cent of the trade total. Many of the contracts signed for projects also go to Chinese companies, the report found.
Renewed concern has also emerged over rising debt levels in Africa.
In summary, the report finds a growing trade relationship with China has brought to Africa commodity booms, growing GDP (gross domestic product), and lots of foreign investment. On the negative side of the ledger, there have been job loses due to cheaper imports, rising personal and government debt levels and an over-dependence on minerals for economic growth.
Across Africa, new infrastructure has emerged where it probably would not have come about under the continuing debt burdens from the 1970s and 1980s. The continent has received a shot of energy, but it remains to be seen whether governments can sustain this economic jolt and make the wise choices that create African jobs and build liveable cities for the 21st century.
Published: March 2014
1) Global South-South Development Expo: The Global South-South Development Expo (GSSD Expo) is the only Expo solely from the South and for the South. It showcases successful Southern-grown development solutions (SDSs) addressing the need to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Website: southsouthexpo.org
2) World Trade Organization (WTO): There are a number of ways of looking at the World Trade Organization. It is an organization for trade opening. It is a forum for governments to negotiate trade agreements. It is a place for them to settle trade disputes. It operates a system of trade rules. Essentially, the WTO is a place where member governments try to sort out the trade problems they face with each other. Website: http://www.wto.org
3) Djibouti Free Zone: Djibouti Free Zone was created with one primary goal in mind – to bring about a sea-change in the way Africa thinks and does business. No red tape, ruthless efficiency and genuinely exhaustive services – in essence, it offers the ideal conditions for trade and commerce to flourish. Website: djiboutifz.com/
4) Forum on China-Africa Cooperation: Keep up with the busy diplomatic and trade contacts between China and African countries. Website: http://www.focac.org/eng/
5) China-Africa Cooperation Net: China-Africa Industrial Forum (CAIF) is the collective dialogue and cooperation mechanism that was set up by both China and friendly African countries in the year 2000. Website: http://www.zfhz.org/html/en_gywm.html
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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.
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