China, Africa trade and investment off to a flying start in 2017


China’s trade with African countries rose nearly 20% in the first quarter from a year earlier, while its direct investment in the continent soared by 64%, the Chinese commerce ministry said.

Trade co-operation between China and Africa is “off to a flying start” in 2017, thanks to policy benefits from a co-operative framework laid down by Chinese and African leaders in South Africa in 2015, said Sun Jiwen, ministry spokesman.

China’s relationship with Africa pre-dates its current resource-hungry economic boom. In previous decades, China’s Communist leaders supported national liberation movements and newly independent states across the continent.

Chinese President Xi Jinping announced plans to plough $60 billion into African development projects at a summit in Johannesburg in 2015, saying it would boost agriculture, build roads, ports and railways and cancel some debt.

China’s total trade with Africa rose 16.8% to $38.8 billion in the first quarter, its first quarterly increase on a yearly basis since 2015, Sun said during a regular news briefing in Beijing.

That’s mainly thanks to a 46% year-on-year jump in imports from Africa in the first quarter with agricultural imports rising 18%, while Chinese exports recorded a smaller fall of one percent from a year earlier, Sun said.

China’s non-financial direct investment to the continent also jumped 64% in the quarter, as countries such as Djibouti, Senegal and South Africa all saw a more than 100% rise in the quarter.

China’s growing investment in the region is also likely to have been buoyed by its ambitious global trading strategy known as the Belt and Road Initiative, which appeared to be gaining traction recently, particularly in parts of East Africa where major infrastructure and defence projects are underway.

China’s trade relations with African countries are often dominated by big natural resource deals, triggering criticism from some quarters that China is interested only in the continent’s mineral and energy wealth.

Africans broadly see China as a healthy counter-balance to Western influence but, as ties mature, there are growing calls from policymakers and economists for more balanced trade relations.