Structure of African trade ties must be changed

Updated: 2011-12-07 10:12

By Li Jiabao (China Daily)

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BEIJING - China needs to expand its trading volume with Africa and balance its structure, according to experts.

"At present, the trading volume with Africa is quite small and the structure is not balanced. In the near future, China needs to develop new trading opportunities and expand imports from Africa, while promoting investment in Africa by Chinese businesses," said Cheng Zhigang, secretary-general of the China Africa Industrial Forum, in an address to the Second China-Africa Industrial Cooperation and Development Forum.

The forum, held in Beijing on Nov 28 and 29, serves as a platform for officials and experts to discuss the prospects for cooperation between China and Africa and to allow Chinese businesses to investigate investment projects on the continent.

This year, the trading volume between China and Africa is predicted to reach a record $150 billion, despite an unfavorable trading environment in the second half of the year.

However, Cheng said that Africa "accounts for a very small part of China's foreign trade". In 2010, exports to Africa accounted for just 3.79 percent of China's total, while imports from Africa accounted for 4.56 percent of China's total.

"In addition, the top 10 importers to China and Chinese export destinations in Africa haven't changed much in recent years and each country's share of China's foreign trade remained almost unchanged," Cheng said.

Wang Cheng'an, vice-president of the Chinese Society for the Study of African Affairs, said the underdeveloped nature of Africa and its low level of industrialization left the continent with a limited export inventory.

"African exports to China are limited to agricultural and primary products, including minerals and energy products, while China sells its manufactured goods to Africa. But the low level of industrialization in Africa deprives it of added-value and means the structure of trade lacks balance," Wang said.

The level of the imbalance with a number of African countries has provoked criticism from some observers in the West. It has become an important factor affecting the development of Sino-African trade and urgent efforts are required to improve the structure, according to Cheng.

Bieke Antonin Benjamin, first counselor of the Embassy of the Republic of Cote d'Ivoire in Beijing, suggested at the forum that African countries should form regional markets to expand their trading volumes and improve the trading structure. "African economies and the Chinese economy are different. China is very big, but Africa is comprised of many small countries. We need to form both regional and larger markets to improve the trading structure. Otherwise, the situation will not change for a long time," he said.

Cheng called for China to widen the range of goods it imports from Africa and broaden cooperation from traditional fields to promising new areas, including agriculture, manufacturing and human resources training.

In 2010, China exempted 60 percent of the customs duty on goods from the most underdeveloped African countries and "will continue the practice in the future, which will increase China's imports from Africa and benefit the people of Africa".