By Charles Onunaiju
Despite the rampage and ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic and its induced global economic down turn, Nigeria and China trade volume galloped to 20 billion U.S dollars after the year 2020 and is expected to maintain a sound growth momentum, especially in 2022. However, while concerns are rife among Nigerians on the question of trade imbalance between Nigeria and China, there are considerable missing gaps in the emotive narrative of the trade disequilibrium in favour of China. However, trade is one strand of the comprehensive and strategic partnership between Nigeria and China and even within the framework of trade; there are enough grounds to cover to balance the bilateral trade cooperation.
China has made efforts to close its trade gaps with African partners by offering huge non tariff entry of products and services from the continent to its huge market. In the past three years since 2018, China has held three Import Expo designed to offer access to foreign goods and services providers to its huge market. Nigeria and some selected African countries have been invited to these Import Expo to show-case their products and services to the Chinese markets. Seizing such opportunities to gain access to the Chinese market is matter of the readiness and initiatives of the invited participating countries to explore the market and engage the opportunities if offers. More specifically, following the outcome of Beijing Summit of the Forum On China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in September, 2018 the Chinese side established the China-Africa Economic and Trade Expo that holds yearly since then, in the Chinese city of Changsha in the country’s central Province of Hunan. The expo is specifically designed to provide access to the Chinese market of African products and Services, and despite the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Expo has been consistently and successfully held since 2019, with latest held in September last year. At the last Expo, 135 deals with a value of 22.9 billion U.S dollars in diverse areas such as trade, investment, Infrastructure, agriculture, manufacturing, aviation and tourism were successfully concluded. Compared to the 2019 when 700 companies took part in the Expo, the latest edition in 2021 attracted 900 companies from more than 40 companies, including Nigeria. Besides the business deals that were signed at the Expo, 320 companies put forward their products at the event, netting in 38.7 million U.S dollars online trading. Despite that Nigeria was invited, it was other Six African countries- Kenya, Algeria, Ethiopia, Rwanda, South Africa and Senegal that headlined the event and signaled the vigor of Africa to catch up with opportunities to firm up and close the gap in its trade and investment ties with China. Through the mechanism of the economic and trade expo, more agricultural produce from Africa are gaining access to the Chinese market, after elimination of restrictive entry barriers. Other commodities from Africa including oil, copper, iron are making steady entry to the Chinese market.
At the Expo last September, a wide array of Africa’s agricultural produce ranging from Kenya tea, Rwandan Coffee, South Africa’s blueberries were on display. Kenya and China signed formal agreement clearing a list of additional products for export to China, which included legumes, flowers, vegetables, meat, hides, herbs and fruit. Kenyan’s companies that participated in the expo reported a huge Chinese market appetite longing for African products. Most of the products that other African countries show-cased to the China market and reaped bountiful benefits in signed deals and on-the spot traded goods are in abundance in Nigeria, but there has been very little in terms of exposure to Nigeria’s businesses and companies with respect to the opportunities of the Chinese market. The Nigeria’s relevant authorities and bureaucracy have not exerted itself optimally to give adequate exposure to the prospects of Chinese huge market to Nigeria businesses. While the addiction to buying from China is evidently palpable and reasonable on rational market terms, the appetite and thirst to sell to China has huge comparative advantage that can create the necessary equilibrium in the two countries bilateral trade and opportunities clearly abound for Nigeria to scale up her engagement with China and fill in the gap of the Chinese thirst for African products. The recently concluded 8th Ministerial conference of Forum On China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) held in Dakar, Senegal last November, further boost the opportunity of China to African countries, including Nigeria. At the conference, the Chinese leader, President Xi Jinping outlined nine specific programs of Cooperation with Africa, In the third program, which is trade promotion, the Chinese leader offered that “China will open “green lanes” for African agricultural exports to China, speed up the inspection and quarantine procedures and further increase the scope of products enjoying zero-tariff treatment for the least developed countries (LDCs) having diplomatic relations with China, in a bid to reach 300 billion U.S dollars in total imports from Africa in the next three years”.
This simply means, the Chinese market will be ready to absorb goods, products and services from Africa worth 300billion US dollars in the next three years on concessionary basis of speeding up “inspection and quarantine procedures with a special “Green lanes”, established to give practical expression to the process. In addition to this, China will offer 10 billion U.S dollars of trade finance to support Africa export and also build in China, a pioneering zone for in-depth China-Africa trade and economic cooperation and a China-Africa Industrial park for Belt and Road Cooperation”, The totality of this major initiative on the Chinese side hold prospects, not only to redress the issue of the trade imbalance, but will hand in to the Continent, the advantage which China enjoyed more that 40 years, when it began her journey of industrialization that earned her the nickname of the “workshop of the world”. The fact is that while the opportunity to gain access to the Chinese huge market is now on offer to African Countries, some will seize it and grab it by the jugular, and others will stonewall and snore away the opportunities. The question is which group, would Nigeria belong and how are the Nigeria’s institutions and processes primed and ready to gain the opportunities of this type. Apart from the the trade promotion, the other eight programs which includes Medical and Health, Poverty Reduction and Agricultural Development, Investment Promotion, Digital Innovation, Green Development, Capacity Building, Cultural and People to People Exchanges and Peace Security and clearly aligns with Africa and specifically, Nigeria’s urgent imperative to to survive and thrive in 2022 and beyond. Nigeria enjoys important and robust bilateral relation with China and this is evident in the status of a strategic partnership which Beijing extended to only three African Countries, including Nigeria.
In the China’s initiated framework of international cooperation, the Belt and Road Initiative under which Beijing has outlined several billions of US dollars in Infrastructure connectivity, trade facilitation, policy alignment and people-to people cooperation around the world ,, Nigeria is an important partner. Nigeria’s main obstacle to the engagement of the historic opportunity of China is to initiate specific and targeted policy framework, matched with the political will to spot areas of engagement that could maximally contribute meaningfully to the country’s priority field in economic recovery and sustainable growth
The opportunity of Nigeria-China cooperation is huge and can play very important role in building up, Nigerian national aggregates, facilitate substantially the Nigeria’s economic recovery and properly position the country to fulfill its manifest destiny as the economic hub and energizer of the continent’s economic prospects. The enormous political goodwill between the two sides and growing cultural fascination between the peoples of the two countries is a good leverage to facilitate more robust and economic cooperation between the two countries.
China’s readiness and commitment to share its experience in industrial and production capacity with African countries and especially Nigeria which holds the highest prospects of industrialization with considerable resource endowment and human capital, further gives scope to the opportunity of Nigeria-China cooperation.