Insiders say continent can expand from raw materials to diversified products
African experts are confident that the China International Import Expo in Shanghai will deepen international business cooperation and address the trade imbalance between China and its trade partners.
Cavince Adhere, a scholar specializing in China-Africa relations, said the expo thrusts China toward a new frontier for goods and services around the world.
However, while the expo has been deemed a significant move by China to embrace foreign products and services, Adhere said the big question in many African capitals is how the continent will make the best use of the opportunity.
The low volume of African exports to China has been a concern for a long time, and the depth and complexity of China's economy make it difficult for many African countries to compete, he said, resulting in African countries exporting more raw products to Beijing and importing high value-added products in return.
"The expo is therefore a good opportunity for China and Africa to explore what is working and how best to harness the existing potential toward win-win trade relations," he said, adding that data from various sources indicate that African exports to China have been on an upward trend.
For successful results, Adhere said, both parties need progressive economic partnerships that can facilitate African exports to the Chinese market.
He said there is need to diversify the type of African products that China welcomes into its markets－from traditional crude oil, copper, iron and rare minerals to products like flowers, vegetables and beverages.
"Africa should also aggressively market new sources of comparative advantage, such as tourism to the Chinese market. The continent should also leverage the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation to further buoy its exports to China," Adhere said.
Enock Twinoburyo, an economist based in Rwanda's capital, Kigali, said that China's opening of its market is a starting gesture in a world where international trade is on a downward trend.
"In the regime of the emerging trade wars, the China import expo may be an avenue to bring order to international trade. The need for nonprohibitive regimes remains warranted," he said.
Twinoburyo believes that China has always had a generous import regime for African countries, and an open market policy could be an effective way to restore the trade balance between Africa and the world, as well as with China in the long term.
He said that over the long term, Africa's share of international trade has remained between 2 and 3 percent and that the continent's competitiveness needs to be supported by structural transformations, from production of raw products to added value.
Richard Lebero, a trade and investment policy expert based in Kigali, said that as he looks at the Chinese expo from an African perspective, he sees China reemphasizing its open trade policy for all countries.