Nurturing a trade partnership

People attend the Huawei Ethiopia forum, organized in collaboration with Addis Ababa University, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, May 9, 2022. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

China held its biggest shopping promotion for African goods between April 28 and May 12, bringing together 300 e-commerce platforms, over 1 million traders and product portfolios in excess of 100,000 brands.

The 4th Brand and Quality Online Shopping Festival and Quality African Products Online Shopping Festival, hosted by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, was the clearest indication yet of the growing trade and economic ties between Beijing and African capitals. Powered by technology, the event enabled Chinese consumers to have real-time interaction with high-quality production bases in 23 African countries.

Trade has been the most dominant feature of Sino-African ties. For 13 years in a row, China has been Africa’s biggest trade partner, after displacing the United States from the top slot in 2009.

Since the founding of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in 2000, trade between the two sides has grown more than twentyfold, hitting an all-time high of $254 billion in 2021. China-Africa trade rose even amid the pandemic.

The shopping festival was important in a number of ways for Sino-African trade cooperation. First, it promoted greater visibility of African products among Chinese consumers. Through technology, African enterprises will be in a position to effectively market their products, including Kenyan black tea, Ethiopian coffee and Rwandan chili sauce, in the Chinese market.

Second, the shopping bonanza also showed Chinese investors the potential of African products and the manufacturing market. Additional Chinese investment in Africa’s production sectors will see more quality products come from the continent, and this will significantly ease the trade imbalance between the two sides.

Third, the festival allowed Africa to learn from China’s very successful e-commerce sector. Marked by online marketing, online transactions and contactless payment, digital commerce has become one of the dominant features of the Chinese economy, bringing monumental benefits. 

Digital inclusion has provided China with a firm platform to create incomes for rural residents and chalk a path out of poverty. Integrated systems have made service delivery easy, cheap and efficient. These are crucial learning points for African countries.

The future of the China-Africa partnership is certainly going to be largely shaped by technology. The Dakar 2021 FOCAC Action Plan clearly articulates the steps that China and Africa are going to take in order to firm up their digital partnership. Harnessing the potential of cloud computing, big data, artificial intelligence, and the mobile internet — all of which are crucial to sustainable e-commerce — has been prioritized.

China has also committed to assisting African countries in building digital connectivity infrastructure under the purview of the Digital Silk Road. In Kenya, China has financed the construction of the Konza National Data Centre & Smart City. The region’s first cloud infrastructure is already providing digital solutions to a number of companies. In March, the Huawei-backed undersea cable connected with Mombasa, Kenya, in a move that promises to foster digital inclusion across the continent.

All these investments improve the ability of Kenya and other African countries to effectively participate in domestic and cross-border e-commerce activities such as the shopping festival. Trade presents one of the most formidable pathways out of poverty, as more trade means farmers are getting value for their produce while additional people are becoming engaged in manufacturing hubs and other supply chains.

With participation of 23 African countries, the festival was another demonstration of the dynamic and innovative trade and economic partnership between China and Africa. While the global health crisis has dampened opportunities for international travel, technology is offering new frontiers of collaboration and keeping cross-border shipments and transactions between China and Africa going.

The author is a scholar of international relations with a focus on China-Africa cooperation. 

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.