The second China-Africa Economic and Trade Expo closed on September 29 in Changsha, Hunan province, with 135 deals with a value of $22.9 billion sealed in areas such as trade, investment, infrastructure, agriculture, manufacturing, aviation and tourism.
These excellent outcomes further consolidate the legacy of this platform for fostering Sino-African ties in the trade and economic arena. About 900 companies from more than 40 countries participated in the event, compared with the 700 companies that took part in the inaugural expo in 2019.
Besides the business deals that were signed, 320 companies showcased their products at the event, netting $38.7 million in online trading. This showed the role that technology can play in facilitating trade relations amid travel cuts due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
China has maintained its position as Africa”s largest trade partner for 12 years straight, after displacing the United States in 2009. This year, bilateral trade between China and the continent defied pandemic pressure, rising 40.5 percent year-on-year to hit $139.1 billion in the first seven months.
With six African countries-Kenya, Algeria, Ethiopia, Rwanda, South Africa and Senegal－headlining the event as guests of honor, the expo signaled new opportunities as the continent races to firm up its trade and investment ties with China.
It was gratifying to see more agricultural produce from Africa gaining access to Chinese markets after elimination of restrictive entry barriers. This also saw crude oil, timber, copper, iron and other commodities making it to the list of imports from the continent.
A wide array of agricultural products from Africa was on display at the expo, ranging from Kenyan tea and Rwandan coffee to South African blueberries. Kenya and China signed formal agreements clearing a list of additional products for export to China, such as legumes, flowers, vegetables, meat, hides, herbs and fruit.
Kenyan companies that participated in the expo reported a ready Chinese market longing for the African products.
To fully tap into the Chinese market, a number of things need to be done by China as well as African countries.
First, product quality must be emphasized. China has opened its trading rooms to all countries around the world. African products therefore compete with products from other parts of the world. African companies should incrementally enhance product quality to meet and exceed the thresholds set by China.
Second, in order to fulfill the product quantities demanded in China, there is an urgent need to expand Africa’s production capacity, which will require funding and resources that are often not available to many of the small and medium-sized enterprises involved in the export market. The increasing interest from Chinese enterprises and investors to partner with African counterparts can significantly ease this funding shortage.
Third, African companies should aggressively market new sources of comparative advantage, such as tourism, to the Chinese market. The continent has proved popular among Chinese tourists－something that could provide a much-needed boost as the world recovers from the pandemic’s economic impacts.
Finally, regarding import and export regulations, China and African countries could consider reducing trade tariffs to enhance the accessibility of both markets.
The upcoming Forum on China-Africa Cooperation summit is expected to establish new and innovative ways to further enhance the flow of imports into the Chinese and African markets, which have a combined population of more than 2.7 billion.
The author is a scholar of international relations with a focus on China-Africa cooperation.
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