Africa to meet China’s growing import needs amid trade row

By Toumert AI Source:Global Times Published: 2019/5/14 14:03:40

Illustration: Luo Xuan/GT

As we watch trade talk drama unfold between the world's most powerful economies, Africa should seize the momentum of the uncertainties the US administration is creating through its protectionist agenda and offer viable alternatives to China.

It is time for Africa to think outside the box when it comes to developing its export potential. Diversification means looking east, especially toward China, rather than toward more traditional markets to the north. Additionally, African exports need to move away from commodity-based trade that is prone to price shocks and demand decline.

By the early 1980s, there were two main markets for African exports: Europe and the US.

However, 30 years later, we have seen the rise of China as a new economic power with equal consumption power.

China's economic expansion created a new shift in trade, more balanced market competitiveness and access to other economies. As a result, China is Africa's largest trade partner, surpassing both the EU and US combined.

China, no longer just an export-driven economy, has become a more balanced player that imports more goods and services. In 2018, China purchased $2.14 trillion worth of imported products. The imports included a wide range of products, from agricultural products and minerals to machinery and health services.

Africa can answer China's needs, especially in agricultural products. Africa must realize its unique position within the current climate of trade rivalry between the US and the rest of the world. Africa can play a balancing role in 21st century growth by offering alternatives, more options and fighting the monopolies some nations have created since the end of World War II.

With a significant amount of unexploited land, Africa's underdeveloped agricultural sector could not only answer China's needs, but those of other emerging markets as well. 

Policymakers in Africa have become aware of this potential. In China, Africa has a new partner to achieve its export shift. If you ask any African politician, business leader, or normal citizen about China's importance to economic growth, they will answer without hesitation: the future is China.

Between the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Africa has found a new dynamic for its economic interactions with the world.

Both platforms have offered a space to listen, explore and get things done. For the first time, African nations were treated equally and given equal access to financing or trade with no strings attached.

By linking FOCAC to the BRI in 2018, the institutional and financial tools to develop healthy China-Africa relations merged into a one-stop solution, and African policymakers now have the opportunity to shift, adjust and meet China's needs.

This is the challenge that Africa faces today - to rise to the task, take the opportunity of trade frictions between the US and the world, and align itself with South Asia and China to meet its 2030 agenda for economic growth, infrastructure, job creation and social stability.

Many international agencies, including African ones, have complained about the fragmentation of local economies. There are too many institutions, interlocutors and interests at play. 

The inefficiency by which African resources are put to work is the reason for Africa's slow development, and without a global African vision that brings together the continent's potential, African nations cannot answer China's needs.

Africa cannot snooze on this opportunity. South American nations have already acted on the opportunities China offers, and now most of China's agricultural needs are met through South American imports. 

The good news is that China's needs exceed the current capacity provided by emerging economies, which means African nations still have an opportunity to engage deeply with the Chinese economy.

The choice is now Africa's: look east or stay frozen in yesterday's economic rigidity.

The author is director of Education, International Bachelor Program at the International School under the China Foreign Affairs University.

Newspaper headline: Africa can meet China’s growing import needs

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