China-Africa trade reaches all-time high in 2021, showing resilience amid pandemic

Source: Xinhua / Updated: 2022-03-01

China-Africa trade has bucked the global economic downward trend, and analysts believe it has contributed to the African economy's resilience in the face of COVID-19 challenges.


China has remained Africa's largest trading partner for 12 consecutive years. According to the latest data released by the General Administration of Customs of China, the total bilateral trade between China and Africa in 2021 reached 254.3 billion U.S. dollars, up 35.3 percent year on year, among which, Africa exported 105.9 billion dollars of goods to China, up 43.7 percent year on year.

China has maintained its position as the largest investor in Africa over the last 10 years, according to a new report by Swiss-African Business Circle released in February.

The United States is the second-largest investor in Africa, followed by France and Turkey, in third and fourth positions, respectively.

Globally, Africa's external trade performance in 2021 was very strong. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) data in November, Africa's import and export of goods increased by 31 percent and 40 percent respectively in the third quarter of 2021.


The UNCTAD believes that the African economy's improvement in 2021 was mainly due to the improvement of the external environment, especially the active support of China and other markets that enhanced Africa's export capacity. Africa's trade growth has also been supported by higher commodity prices.

Over the past 10 years, China created 18,562 jobs a year on average in Africa with yearly increases, said the Swiss-African Business Circle report.

For example, China continued to help Zimbabwe develop its infrastructure, including telecommunications, energy, and agriculture. Major projects include the expansion of Hwange Thermal Power Station, expansion of Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport, and the new parliament building.

South Africa is an important trading partner of China, with bilateral trade accounting for more than one-fifth of the total China-Africa trade. In 2021, the total trade volume between China and South Africa reached 54.35 billion dollars, with a year-on-year growth of 50.7 percent.

In the same year, Chinese investment in South Africa reached 280 million dollars, including 130 million dollars in non-financial investment and 150 million dollars in financial investment.


"At present, countries around the world are still faced with the two arduous tasks of epidemic prevention and control and economic recovery. The high-quality development of China's economy has provided impetus and confidence for global and African economic recovery," said Chen Mingjian, Chinese ambassador to Tanzania.

According to the International Monetary Fund, China's gross domestic product (GDP) accounted for 18 percent of the world economy in 2021, and its contribution to world economic development has been steadily increasing year after year.

At the same time, China's steady economic growth is also bringing more development opportunities to boost African countries' economic recovery.

"In 2021, compared with the previous year, Ethiopia's exports to China increased by 8 percent; new foreign direct investment (FDI) from Chinese companies to Ethiopia grew by 346 percent; the value of newly signed contract projects by Chinese companies in Ethiopia were up 25 percent," said Zhao Zhiyuan, Chinese ambassador to Ethiopia.

The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) have played a key role in China-Africa cooperation.

According to a report by Africa Policy Institute, a pan-African think tank, since the BRI was proposed in 2013, China has supported modern infrastructure projects such as railways, roads, ports, dams, industries, and digital connectivity, injecting vitality into Kenya's growth.

"In less than a decade, Kenya has a brand new 670-kilometer modern Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) connecting the port of Mombasa and the inland (dry) port of Naivasha," said the report titled "Shared Prosperity: Tracking the Belt and Road Initiative in Kenya, 2018-2021."

"The FOCAC, established in 2000, is a continuation and distillation of China-Africa friendship and provides a guarantee for high-level China-Africa relations in the new century," said Humphrey Moshi, director of the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of Dar es Salaam.

"Since 2000, under the guidance of FOCAC, China-Africa cooperation has yielded more fruitful results. In 2019, China's stock of direct investment in Africa reached 49.1 billion U.S. dollars, an increase of nearly 100 times since 2000," said Moshi.

China has helped Africa build the African Union Conference Center, the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway, the Mombasa-Nairobi Railway, and other large-scale infrastructure projects, and conducted close cooperation with Africa in science, education, culture, health, and other fields.

China-Africa cooperation has yielded tangible results and contributed greatly to African countries' efforts to reduce poverty, improve the investment environment, upgrade industrialization level and promote economic development.

"Despite difficulties, China and Africa have made encouraging progress in discussing practical measures to tackle the epidemic and restore economic development under the framework of the FOCAC. This once again shows that China-Africa cooperation has been moving in the right direction and has made solid efforts to help Africa achieve sustainable development," said Moshi.