East vs West--who is winning in Africa? The accepted wisdom is that for Africa, there has been a momentum shift away its traditional trade and investment partners in the West towards the East, particularly China and to a lesser extent, India and Malaysia. But, is the West really losing ground in Africa and if so, how quickly? Neil Ford presents an intriguing take on this question.

Author:Ford, Neil
Position:TRENDS - Statistical data
 
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IT IS TRUE THAT CHINA OVERTOOK THE US to become Africa's biggest single trading partner in 2009, accounting for 13.9% of all African trade, ahead of the US with 13.1%. Yet the European Union (EU) remains Africa's largest single trading partner, with 44.3%--the equivalent of $256bn--shared among the EU 25 member states, so the page has hardly been closed on European post-colonial domination of Africa. As usual, the figures can be interpreted to support either side of the argument.

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Yet it is important not to see this as an economic Cold War, with Western companies lined up against their Eastern competitors. While there is some coordination of action between Chinese companies, Asian firms often compete with each other as much as with their Western counterparts. The agricultural 'land grab' strategy of many Asian investors demonstrates this. By the same token, companies from other countries, such as Brazil and Turkey, which are not traditionally aligned with either the West or the East, are becoming heavily involved in Africa. Ultimately, there is no difference between what motivates Western, Eastern and non-aligned interest in Africa: profit.

While it is possible to exaggerate the pace of change, there is little doubt that Asian investors are now playing a far more substantial role in Africa than at any time in the past. As Table 1 demonstrates, all emerging market partners taken together accounted for just 23% of African trade in 2000 but this figure had jumped to 36.5% by 2009, the most recent year for which complete figures are available. There is little doubt that this proportion has increased further over the past three years, perhaps at an even faster pace, because the world's biggest emerging economies have gained ground rapidly at the expense of the industrialised nations during the global economic crisis.

Table 1: Shares of traditional and emerging partners in African imports, exports and total trade by percentage 2000 2009 TOTAL EXPORTS IMPORTS TOTAL EXPORTS IMPORT TRADE TRADE Total 77 78.3 75.4 63.5 67.6 59 traditional partners EU25 53.5 51.3 56.4 44.3 43 45.6 United 16.1 20.4 10.1 13.1 18.4 7.3 States Other 7.5 6.6 8.8 6.1 6.1 6.1 traditional partners Total 23 21.7 24.6 36.5 32.4 41 emerging partners China 4.7 4.6 4.9 13.9 13.1 14.7 India 2.3 2.4 2.1 5.1 6 4 South Korea 2.6 2.2 3.1 2.6 1.3 4 Thailand 0.8 0.6 1.2 1.1 0.4 2 Taiwan 1.9 2.3 1.3 0.9 1.1 0.7 Singapore 1 0.5 1.7 0.8 0.2 1.4 Malaysia 0.5 0.3 0.7 0.7 0.5 1 Indonesia 0.8 0.6 1 0.7 0.6 0.8 Brazil 1.7 2 1.3 2.5 2.4 2.7 Turkey 1.6 1.9 1.3 2.4 1.6 3.1 Russian 0.6 0.3 1 1 0.5 1.6 Federation United Arab 0.2 0.2 0.1 0.9 1.3 0.5 Emirates Argentina 0.6 0.3 1 0.5 0.1 0.9 Saudi Arabia 0.4 0.6 0 0.4 0.7 0 Other 3.3 2.9 3.8 3 2.6 3.5 countries Total 100 100 100 100 100 100 Total value 246.4 142.4 104 673.4 350.8 322.5 (Sbn) Beijing surpasses Washington

China's share of African trade jumped from 4.7% in 2000 to 13.9% in 2009, still a smaller proportion than its huge population would justify but a massive increase in the space of a single decade. India enjoyed similarly strong growth, pushing its share from 2.3% to 5.1% over the same period, but it is interesting to note that the other Asian economies listed in our table did not experience anything like the same success. Some, such as Singapore and Taiwan, actually saw their share of trade decline.

The figures for foreign direct investment (FDI) flows into...

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