FOCAC to enhance voice of emerging nations

By Laetitia Tran Ngoc Source:Global Times Published: 2018/9/3 19:18:40

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) comes at a critical juncture for global trade marked by disruptions caused by the US' protectionist measures and the increased investment flow created by the implementation of the Belt and Road initiative. These shifting global dynamics create opportunities for an enhanced South-South cooperation, as demonstrated by the growing China-Africa relationship. Today, China is investing more in Africa than any other country, and its trade volume is four to five times that between Africa and the US. China's Ministry of Commerce has also committed to opening its market even more to African products. Already, 97 percent of imports from 33 African countries enjoy duty-free access to China's market. In addition, although China and the African continent are not exclusive partners, many aspects of their relationship are unique in the world.

The FOCAC is an ever-evolving entity. Since its first edition in October 2000, when 44 African countries had sent their foreign ministers and those responsible for economic affairs to Beijing, it has grown into a large official summit between the Chinese president and African heads of state that would shape China's relations with the African continent in the near future. The ongoing FOCAC sees more than 50 heads of state and government from Africa gather.

In parallel, its scope has been continuously expanding. FOCAC tackled several areas of cooperation such as industrialization, agricultural modernization, poverty reduction, public health, education and scientific and academic cooperation. In 2015, peacekeeping was added to the table when China announced it would provide a total of $100 million of free military assistance to the African Union in the next five years. Since the 2015 FOCAC, China also played a critical role in the battle against Ebola, conducted its first overseas deployment of peacekeepers to South Sudan and signed a lease for its first overseas military installation in Djibouti.

Besides, the reduction in foreign aid currently affecting developing countries has increased their awareness of the need for reducing dependence on developed countries. The concept of South-South cooperation exists since the 1950s, but has returned to the forefront since China has emerged to play a bigger role in international affairs thanks to its considerable economic clout and strategy of forging partnerships in new markets, particularly in Africa and Asia.

In a departure from classic donor-to-recipient relations, China openly recognizes looking for new suppliers and new markets for its goods, especially now that the country is in the middle of a trade war with the US. Research shows that Chinese investors benefit from investments and trade in Africa. Ten of China's 15 fastest-growing export markets since 2009 are in Africa; Djibouti, Kenya, Ethiopia and Tanzania, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Ghana, Cameroon and Mozambique. Africa is also the only big regional grouping that recently recommitted to free trade with the signing of the African Continental Free Trade Area in March. Many African countries like Rwanda and Ethiopia are lobbying for China to continue to play an active role in their industrialization. Total Chinese FDI stock is continually growing in Africa, from $491 million in 2003 to $40 billion in 2016. South-South trade has more than tripled between 2005 and 2015 and is a vital force in world economic development today. By 2010, developing countries accounted for around 42 percent of global merchandise trade, with South-South flows making up about half of that total. And 52.6 percent of the African continent's exports were to Europe in 1995, yet this share had declined to 37.3 percent by 2015.

In contrast, the percentage of Africa's trade with developing economies almost doubled in the same period - from 25.6 percent in 1995 to 49.8 percent by 2015. The increase was driven by the growing share of exports to China (from 1.2 percent to 10.6 percent), but also intra-Africa exports (from 12.4 percent to 17.7 percent). In the future, this growing economic power could translate into political influence and change the balance of power as well. As developing countries become less dependent upon traditional donors and Western partners for their economic wellbeing, they could emerge with a stronger voice on the global stage.

In this emerging global landscape, African countries would gain much from looking for common ground between their own goals expressed in the Agenda 2063 and China's foreign policy strategies like the Belt and Road initiative - especially as the US is reducing its economic and military engagement on the continent and the EU is reviewing the Cotonou Partnership Agreement, its overarching framework for relations with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.

With its considerable scope and tangible impact, the FOCAC could just be the right place to do so.

The author is a research officer with the Ethiopian Embassy in Brussels.


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