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Africa aims to rebalance trade with China through avocado strategy

More than 50 African countries took part in the first China-Africa Economic and Trade Expo in China in June, hoping to tap into the massive Chinese market.

Among the exporters at the show were Kenyan companies promoting cut flowers and Rwandan processors selling fruit juices.

With China exporting far more to the continent than it imports from it, African nations are trying to restructure their trading relationship with the Asian giant and narrow the huge trade deficit that is in China’s favour.

Trade between China and Africa has grown twentyfold since the turn of the millennium but in 14 of those years there has been a Chinese surplus.

Africa’s trade imbalance with China was one of the big issues on the agenda when leaders met for the China-Africa summit in Beijing last year. South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa spelled out the economic implications for the continent when he said that China and Africa should work to balance the structure of trade between them. “Much of what is exported from Africa are raw materials and primary products; much of what is imported from China are finished goods,” Ramaphosa said.

“We export to China what we extract from the earth; China exports to us what it makes in its factories. This limits the ability of African countries to extract the full value for their abundant natural resources and to create work for their people.”

The response was an action plan in which Beijing committed to increase China’s imports of non-resource products from African countries, particularly value-added agricultural and industrial goods.

“China will launch a trade facilitation initiative. We have decided to increase imports, particularly non-resource products, from Africa,” President Xi Jinping said at the summit. “We will hold, regularly, marketing activities for Chinese and African brand products.”

In Kenya, tea, cut flowers and coffee are some of the country’s biggest foreign exchange earners, with the premium products filling shelves around the world. But these goods don’t feature among China’s top imports. Instead, mining — a tiny part of the Kenyan economy — is the basis of the trading relationship. Of the US$127 million worth of goods that China imported from Kenya in 2017, 63 per cent was titanium ore and other minerals such as niobium, tantalum, vanadium and zirconium.

But one fruit could be about to make a difference. Kenya, Africa’s biggest exporter of avocados, has signed an agreement on food, plant and animal safety that will let it export various farm products, including avocados, to the expansive Chinese market.

Driven by interest in its health benefits, the fruit is growing in popularity in China, from a largely unknown product less than a decade ago to be a popular option in Chinese supermarkets today.

That popularity is reflected in the numbers. China imported just 31.8 tonnes of avocados in 2011, rising to more than 36,000 tonnes last year – but most of those were shipped from Latin America.

This growth is what Kenyan producers are hoping to tap into. In April, China and Kenya reached an agreement to allow the export of frozen avocados to China. “China is now ready to import Kenyan frozen avocados. The two sides are negotiating an export agreement for fresh avocados,” the Chinese embassy in Nairobi said.


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