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What does China’s first International Import Expo mean for the African continent?
Thursday, 06 December 2018 02:04


Photo by China News

A significant amount of attention has been paid to the China International Import Expo (CIIE). It has been touted as an unprecedented opportunity for producers and exporters around the world to access the colossal Chinese import and consumption market. While China’s intentions to reorient towards import and consumption-led growth have been made clear, it is necessary to examine how, in practice, African governments and businesses may position themselves to participate in and benefit from this opportunity.

It is firstly necessary to understand that the opportunity represented by CIIE is neither arbitrary nor transitory, but is rather a manifestation of China’s future trajectory, which will be characterized by an increasing number of opportunities for transnational trade.

China’s increasing desire for imports is underpinned by the growing incomes of its citizens (liquidity is fairly high), coupled with increased selectivity among Chinese consumers, which includes brand awareness, creating a robust market for premium goods. It is projected that China’s annual imports will grow from around USD 2 tn in 2017 to around USD 8 tn in 5 years in a diverse set of sectors. The implication here is a steady double-digit growth in imports into China over the short to medium term.

The opportunity is self-evident. It is therefore important to ask: how do various role players on the continent harness it? Government organs involved with facilitating market access for their enterprises must begin by informing themselves of the economic and political dynamics in China, also referred to as ‘doing their due diligence’. Following this, it is necessary to formulate a China-specific strategy, guided by clear objectives. Such a strategy may include the establishment of bilateral trade enhancement working groups, advocating for the fast-tracking of market access for key growth-promoting HS codes and arranging buying trips of Chinese importers to African countries.

Export councils and industry associations must be proactive in their efforts to bridge the information gap that exists between African exporters and Chinese importers. This should be attempted through the strategic, targeted and aggressive promotion of key growth-promoting African goods, as well as efforts to improve Chinese perceptions of Africa and the goods it produces.

Various other ‘facilitating parties’ also have an important role to play. Shipping lines and supply chain players must work to streamline freight processes, particularly for fresh produce. E-commerce platforms must be utilised to expand and deepen market access. Research institutions and cross-border experts must participate in the facilitation of ‘China literacy’ initiatives for African CEOs and producers.

Last but not least, is the vital role played by producers and exporters themselves. As the fulcrum of the China export potential of African countries, producers must gauge their productive capacities, ensuring the ability to sustain a step-change in supply volumes. Beyond developing links with Chinese importers, understanding e-commerce platforms and building an online presence are also crucial to driving access to the Chinese market. Harnessing strategic market intelligence is also an important building block for getting exports to China right at this moment of rapidly expanding opportunity.

This article is produced by The Beijing Axis and is published in The Econometer section of ChinAfrica magazine (November 2018), an English and French language monthly publication that provides news, views and analysis on all things China, Africa and China-Africa relations.