Reimagining Africa-China trade & investment relations (1)


The story so far

The headline numbers are glaring enough. Africa is developing ever-deeper ties with China in trade and investment.

The majority of emerging economies are found in Africa, with China being the largest in the globe. Over one-third of the world’s population resides in China and Africa together. The challenge China and Africa share is advancing social and economic development.

Africa-China relations can be traced back to the 1950s when economic and trade cooperation centred on bilateral trade and China’s aid to Africa. Through the joint efforts of both sides, cooperation has been developed in ever-expanding fields and with increasingly richer content.

Africa-China relations reached their peak when, in 2009, China became Africa’s largest trading partner.

China overtook Europe as Africa’s top trading partner in 2009, despite the global financial crisis which caused the volume of China-Africa trade to decline to US$91.07billion. As the world economy recovered, China-Africa commerce maintained a positive recovery and development momentum.

The story hasn’t changed much since 2009. We have, however, witnessed an ever-increasing volume of trade and investment volumes between Africa and China.

US$254billion – an all-time high

The volume of bilateral trade between China and Africa increased from US$12.14million in 1950 to US$100million in 1960 and US$1billion in 1980.

After crossing the US$10billion threshold in 2000, trade between China and Africa has continued to rise quickly ever since.

China and Africa conducted more than US$100billion worth of bilateral trade in 2008, with China exporting US$50.8billion to the continent and importing US$56billion from it.

Between 2000 and 2008, the average annual growth rate of China-Africa commerce was 33.5%; during that time, the volume of trade between the two continents increased from 3.8% to 10.4% in Africa and from 2.2% to 4.2% in China.

Despite issues with the global supply chain, commerce between China and Africa reached new highs in 2021. A shift in Chinese strategy toward commerce and cooperation rather than state-backed investments is partially reflected in the increase.

According to the most recent data from China’s General Administration of Customs, total bilateral trade between China and Africa in 2021 reached US$254.3billion – a 35.3 percent increase over the previous year.

China’s top-five African commercial partners in 2021 were Egypt, Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Africa, Nigeria and Angola. Together, the value of commerce between China and these nations made up more than half the total trade between China and Africa.

Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt, Ghana and Kenya imported the most products from China in 2021. Together, their imports accounted for more than half of all Chinese commodities brought into Africa in the previous year.

On the other hand, the top exporters to China in 2021 were South Africa, Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia. Their combined shipments to China last year made up over 71% of all exports.

Minerals, metals, agricultural goods, crude oil and agricultural goods are among Africa’s top exports to China.


The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) has undoubtedly been instrumental in increasing the momentum of investment engineered over the period between China and Africa.

Since its inception more than 20 years ago, the FOCAC has improved and reenergised economic and trade cooperation between China and Africa; trade, investment, infrastructure and capacity building have all been advanced; and financial and tourism cooperation have gradually expanded, forming a multi-tiered and extensive cooperation pattern on a new historical starting point.

Under the direction of then-Chinese President, Hu Jintao, FOCAC brought together more than 40 leaders of state or governments from Africa for the first time in 2006. Its advancement under the Xi Jinping era from 2013 to a comprehensive strategic multilateral framework covered concerns relating to human development, politics, trade and the environment.

FOCAC continues to have the deepest, broadest, and most cooperative strategic relationships. Significant investments have helped Africa; and China has built up a sizable soft-power presence on the continent.

Today, FOCAC is much more than just one development criterion. It has evolved into the central idea behind China’s grand strategy for the developing world, and Africa is central to this strategy.

About author

Paul is a development economist, top voice on Sino-Africa relations, and an award-winning entrepreneur.

He’s currently the Executive Director & Senior Research Fellow at the Africa-China Centre for Policy & Advisory.

The Africa-China Centre for Policy and Advisory is a Sino-African research and policy think-tank and advisory firm headquartered in Accra, Ghana.

The Centre is dedicated to providing unbiased policy and market research as well as distinct views on Africa-China relations.[email protected]

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