China's trade with Africa grew at a slower rate last year, as a downturn in the Asian giant's economy led to a sharp fall in imports of industrial raw materials.
Two-way trade grew by just 2.2 per cent in 2019 to US$208.7 billion, compared with a 20 per cent rise a year earlier, according to official figures from China's General Administration of Customs.
China's imports from Africa fell by 3.8 per cent in the period to US$95.5 billion, while exports rose 7.9 per cent to US$113.2 billion as Beijing sought new markets as a way to bypass the punitive trade war tariffs imposed on its goods by the United States.
Charles Robertson, chief economist at Renaissance Capital, a Moscow-based investment bank that specialises in emerging markets, said commodity exporters in Africa did not do well when global manufacturing was weak.
"The US-China trade war, Germany's car industry weakness and tensions between South Korea and Japan all contributed to this weakness," he said.
South Africa, Nigeria, Algeria and Angola " four of Africa's biggest economies " would all be doing better if the trade war had not happened, Robertson said.
"But some countries are still doing well, including Kenya, whose exports of tea and coffee are much less sensitive to global manufacturing."
John Ashbourne, a senior emerging markets economist at Capital Economics in London who specialises in Sub-Saharan Africa, said the latest trade figures were disappointing for African economies.
"The region's widening trade deficit with China will play into the hands of critics who claim that China is taking advantage of the region by flooding it with cheap exports," he said.
Ashbourne said the two exceptions were iron ore and wrought copper, as Chinese demand for them fell in 2019.
"That could explain some weakness in South African and Zambian exports to China."
Zambia is a major copper and cobalt producer, while South Africa is also rich in many minerals and metals.
Jennifer McKeown, head of global economics at Capital Economics, said the pledges China had made to buy more goods from the US could add 0.5 per cent to America's economy over two years.
The trade deal could hurt other regions, including Africa, which supplies China with much of its metals and oil, she said.
Countries like Angola, which is heavily dependent on oil exports to China, could be the most exposed, she said.
During his recent visit to Africa, China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that "China has been Africa's largest trading partner for 11 years in a row".
At a press conference with his Zimbabwean counterpart, Sibusiso Moyo in Harare, on Sunday, Wang said that China's indirect investment in Africa was US$110 billion in 2019.
In the two decades since the creation of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), China's trade with Africa has grown 20-fold.
The forum has been criticised by Western nations, which say that Beijing's lending practices lure poor nations into debt traps.
Wang, however, said the FOCAC had become an "effective mechanism for practical cooperation between China and Africa".
He pointed to the more than 6,000km (3,700 miles) of railways and roads, 20 ports and over 80 power plants " many developed under Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative " as evidence of the success of China's investments in Africa over the past two decades.
"It (the FOCAC) has promoted the process of industrialisation in Africa and enhanced Africa's ability for independent development," Wang said.
Driven by the success of the forum " the next session of which would be held in Africa next year " other countries had increased their focus on the continent, which had provided even more opportunities for its development, he said.
The increased interest from major powers like the US and Japan in search of new markets and raw materials in Africa had also pushed Beijing to expand its trade activities there.
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