What impact is the G20 having on African trade? Exclusive Analysis

 In analysis, infographic

Development Reimagined’s infographic series

Trade is always changing. It’s a fact of life. According to economic theory, there will always be some countries or areas that have advantages – cost and efficiency wise – in producing certain goods over others. These countries will export more to other countries, and other countries purchase from them. And such advantages will change over time.

But it’s also a fact that trade matters to development. Some countries such as China, Korea, Thailand and UAE have created millions of jobs and cut poverty spectacularly by orienting themselves around trade.

At Development Reimagined, our clients often ask us about trade with China, an increasingly critical component of any country’s or business’ development strategy. However, China’s trade patterns exist within other global drivers and patterns. That’s why for our next series of infographics we decided to explore a data set that – to our surprise – hadn’t been analysed anywhere before… The trade patterns between Africa and some of the largest countries in the world – the G20…

This exclusive data analysis is also important in the context of the upcoming G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan from 28-29 June, and the first China-Africa Trade Expo in Changsha, China from 27-29 June. The latter represents a new zeal by China to open its borders to African products. But let’s come back to that. For now, some quick history and context about the G20….


Who are the G20 and why do they matter?

Spurred by the Asian financial crisis back in 1998, the governments of 19 countries and a region – the EU – began meeting regularly from 1999 onwards to discuss and coordinate their internal financial and economic policies, in order to have a stabilising, positive effect on the rest of the world.  The 20 together account for 65% of the world’s population, 84% of the world’s economy, and 79% of the world’s carbon emissions. Over time, the G20 have begun to coordinate on other types of policy impacts on the rest of the world. For instance, since the UK Presidency in 2009, the G20 has made initial agreements on climate finance, which have been helpful for UN negotiations. The Chinese Presidency in 2016 also initiated discussion on how the G20 can directly support industrialisation in African countries.

However, to date the G20 have not collectively reviewed how their trade patterns affect Africa’s economies and development potential, and what solutions they could offer.

So – we took on this task, and these are the 5 headlines we found:


  1. The G20 accounts for a huge majority of trade with Africa – but that trade is tiny

China is the largest bilateral trade partner for most Africa countries, surpassed only by the EU as a whole. China (22%) and the EU as a whole (33%) are also the largest importers of African products into the G20.

However, on average just 3% of all products imported by the G20 come from Africa.


  1. A few countries dominate African imports into the G20

If Africa’s trade with G20 is limited, it is even more limited for the majority of African countries. There are 29 African countries that each export less than 1% of Africa’s total exports to the G20, including countries with big industrial plans such as Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Senegal and Lesotho. Even Ethiopia, known for its work since 2012 to upgrade its manufacturing and export potential, accounts for less than 2% of Africa’s exports to the G20.

In contrast, those countries that have large shares of exports to the G20 have abundant oil, mineral and other natural resources (such as Nigeria).

This “extractive pattern” is not reserved to China. Only 16 African countries have a trade surplus (i.e. export more to than import from) with 50% or more of the G20 countries.


  1. The vast majority of African countries have an overall trade deficit with G20 countries

On average for every $1 of African exports to G20 countries, $1.4 goes back to the G20 as imports into Africa from the G20. This average masks huge differences across the G20 and for specific African countries.

The result? Of all the G20 countries ONLY Mexico has a trade deficit (i.e. it imports more from than it exports to) with more than 50% of African countries.

  1. Imports from Africa into the G20 have mostly been on the rise, but from and to very low levels

For most G20 countries, their imports from African countries have overall been growing over time, with some declines that can be associated with commodity prices due to their timing. This generally rising trend is the case for China, which is important and significant – as China’s market is huge and is growing fast. There are signs that China is diversifying its trade with African countries. However, together the G20 still import 36 times more goods from outside of Africa than from within the continent.

Interestingly, China and the US – as the two largest world economies – have moved in opposite directions since 2000, when they both imported approximately 43 times more goods from non-African sources than Africa. Now, China imports 22 times more goods from non-African sources, and the US 70 times more goods. Changes within the G20 seem uneven, and un-coordinated.


  1. The G20 exports proportionally more to larger, more industrialised faster-growing African countries than it imports from them OR exports to the poorer nations.

This final finding is critical – because it indicates a structural challenge. It implies that even if African countries improve internally and develop what economic theory might suggest are “comparative advantages” – e.g. in labour with its large youth population, the current trends suggest African countries may simply bring in more and more imports from the G20 and other richer nations.  We are not yet seeing – and there is little evidence to suggest that we will see – the transformation of African economies from being net importers to net exporters.

Even a country like Egypt – with an abundance of high-yield and high quality agricultural goods, a strong manufacturing sector, high-tech solutions and services – imports more than it exports to G20 countries. Indeed, it has the largest absolute trade deficit of all the 55 African countries.


Is any of this really a problem?

In sharp contrast to the findings above, economic theory suggests that the future of trade should be centred in Africa, rather than G20 countries or the rest of the world. Why? Over the past 40 years, starting with economic advantages such as an abundance of cheap labour and smallholder farmers, China has taken huge steps to place itself firmly at the center of world trade, while climbing up the value chain from exporting raw agricultural and other natural resources, to exporting manufactured and increasingly high-tech goods. In 2016, China made up 13.8% of the world’s total value of exports. It used active domestic policy – such as special economic zones, combinations of direct and indirect subsidies on production, market protection (or “import substitution”) and more to get there.

But China also had the support of the rest of the world to do so. China joined the WTO in 2001, the richest countries opened up tariffs barriers, shifted production to China, and invested in China despite controversial policies such as joint venture requirements. A Mckinsey index suggests that the world’s exposure to China increased from 0.4 in 2000 to 1.2 in 2017.

China saw it’s own potential for growth and transformation. And the rest of the world did too.

The world is now increasingly talking about Africa’s growth and transformation potential. Africa has the same economic advantages that China did. Cheap labour, millions of smallholder farmers, increasingly healthy populations, and more. China’s factories should – all other things equal – begin to shift to African countries.

In addition, the 55 African countries have just come together to create the largest free trade agreement in the world. The AfCFTA as it is known is expected to unlock internal trade as well as new export routes.

Furthermore, African countries have been opening up their business environments and building industrial zones and infrastructure to attract investment. A recent UNCTAD study found over 237 industrial zones and parks across Africa now. Indeed, many G20 aid programmes are now designed to support these efforts – known as “trade facilitation” or “aid for trade” programs.

In contrast, the global policy environment for trade with African countries has hardly shifted since before the Doha trade round was initiated back in 2001. In some cases, it has worsened, with preferential trade agreements being used as political tools rather than enablers, or being disregarded through use of non-tariff barriers, both for agricultural and value-added products.


What can the G20 do? 

Our exclusive analysis shows that there is no doubt that the G20 countries have the largest levers – beyond aid for trade programs – to support Africa to sustainably enter and shift up global supply chains, and eventually get a bigger piece of the trade pie. This requires looking at how the G20 can get their own houses in order.

Areas to explore include ending domestic agricultural subsidies in favour of poorer countries – the point that led to the collapse of the Doha trade round; using G20 buyers, consumer preferences and domestic incentives to shift global supply chains from China towards the African continent in a green and sustainable manner; and  – recognising that Africa will now be trading as one with  AfCFTA – extending current preferential trade agreements such as the US’ AGOA or the EU’s EBA to the entire African continent. These are the sorts of commitments that Japan can encourage in the G20 Summit this week, perhaps using the AfCFTA or the US-China trade war challenges as departure points.


What can individual countries and businesses, and other international organisations do? What next steps?

Our novel data and analysis above is just a first step. It can be explored in more depth, and should also be replicated for individual G20 and other richer countries as well as African and other developing country stakeholders seeking to improve or chart new trade relationships with larger players. Indeed, we believe that it’s impossible to make progress on these issues without such detailed analysis and data.

That’s why as discussions on trade here in China, at the G20, WTO, African Union and elsewhere on trade intensify, at Development Reimagined we will continue to work with all partners – at the policy level and individual business level – to provide data, case studies and practical support, to ultimately help deliver sustainable development and poverty reduction in Africa and beyond.


If you are interested in exploring this data, all extracted from the UN’s COMTRADE, please let us know at media@developmentreimagined.com (a warning: it’s a large data set!).

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Research Analyst

Edmond is a research analyst who is passionate about sustainable development, innovation, and the environment. Passionate about climate financing, he firmly believe there is a more reliable system to promote equality, growth, and welfare in societies without affecting the ecosystem. Through his skills, knowledge and experienced gained over 7 years, he wants to make an impact in the world of development. Edmond holds a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Korea Development Institute and a BA Degree (Honors) in Business from University of Derby.


    Founder and CEO

Hannah Ryder is the Founder & CEO of Development Reimagined. A former diplomat and economist with 20 years of experience, named one of 100 most influential Africans in 2021, she is also Senior Associate for the Africa Program of the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS), sits on the Board of the Environmental Defence Fund, and is a member of UAE's International Advisory Council on the New Economy. Prior to her role at DR, Ms Ryder led the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s work with China to help it scale up and improve its cooperation with other developing countries, including in Africa. She has also played various advisory roles for the UN and OECD and co-authored the seminal Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change in 2006.


Deputy Director

Leah Lynch is Deputy Director of Development Reimagined (DR), and head of the China office. Leah has over 10 years of experience in development and has lived in China for over 8 years. Leah has also travelled extensively around Asia and Africa for research. Leah supports the strategic direction of the team across China, with a mission to deliver high quality research on sustainable development and poverty reduction. Leah is also Chair of the Sustainability Forum at the British Chamber of Commerce in China, providing direction on sustainability initiatives for British and Chinese business. Leah has also consulted on various evaluations on UK aid (ICAI) and is a specialist on development cooperation from the UK and China. Leah has also consulted on various UN projects, including providing support to the UN China team during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Prior to DR, Leah was at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) China, supporting the UN’s portfolio on communication strategies, China’s South- South Cooperation and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Before UNDP, Leah lived and worked in Kenya developing sustainable water policies for the Kenyan government.


China-Africa Policy Analyst

Yike Fu is a Policy Analyst and has been responsible for leading numerous areas of work, including on debt analysis in Africa and beyond, and China-Africa trade and investment logistics and analysis. She is the co-author of “African Debt Guide”, in which she challenged the narrative that Africa is in the midst of a new debt crisis by analysing data back to the 1970s and adopting new metrics to present the real story behind the data. She also developed a benchmark to compare the financial distribution of development partners such as the UK, US, Japan, France and China in Africa. Prior to her role at DR she worked at the International Finance Corporation and African Union Representational Mission to the US. She holds a Masters in International Affairs from George Washington University.


Research Analyst

Judith is a Research and Policy Analyst, where she specialises in Africa-China relations, international development, and diplomacy. During her time at Development Reimagined, Judith has co-authored several articles published in The Diplomat on debt and China-Barbados relations and was quoted by China Daily in a piece on Women Rights in China. Previously, Judith worked as a research analyst for an Advocate and Commissioner and Oats office in Kenya.


Policy Analyst

Ovigwe specialises in geopolitics with particular reference to Africa in a changing Global Order. He is adept at critically analysing the politics of contemporary development processes and providing insight into the geopolitical interests that influence them. His work includes research, publications, tailored briefings and advising on global and regional trends, and issues at the nexus of geopolitics and development. Ovigwe appears frequently in media around the world such as Al Jazeera, TRT World, SABC, CGTN, BBC Radio, and other platforms.


Policy Analyst

Jing leads China-African health and agriculture cooperation research at Development Reimagined, having managed our FOCAC Policy Analysis and Advocacy project. She is also the co-author of “China-Africa Health Cooperation under FOCAC Umbrella”, in which she analysed China’s commitments around health cooperation since the first FOCAC summit and deepdived into four African countries’ health overview, challenges and cooperation with China as cases studies. Before DR, Jing worked at GIZ Cambodia on M&E of a disability advocacy project. She also worked as a translator with Chinese medical team in Benin.


Trade Policy Analyst

Patrick is an International Trade Policy and Trade Law Expert with over 5 years of experience. His expertise includes trade law, trade policy analysis and regional integration. He is currently engaged with Development Reimagined as a Senior Trade Analyst and was the lead author of Development Reimagined's recent Report on Africa-China Relations titled "From China-Africa to Africa- China: A Blue Print for a Green and Inclusive Continent-Wide Strategy Towards China." and “Reimaging FOCAC Going Forward.” Patrick has previously consulted for the East African Community, UNECA and for the Kenya Ministry of Trade.


Senior Policy Analyst 

Rosemary is our Senior Policy Analyst. She is a skilled policy analyst and has previously worked as a UK civil servant. She is studying Human Rights at Birkbeck, University of London with a research focus on international law in the context of health crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic.


Project Manager and Africa-China Communication Assistant

Jade is a Project Manager for Development Reimagined’s flagship project Africa Unconstrained, which focuses on financing needs and debt vulnerabilities of African countries. Her research focuses on China-Africa development finance alongside debt vulnerabilities, infrastructure needs and South-South cooperation. She has worked with a breadth of stakeholders from China, Africa and the wider international community, including governments, private sector, NGOs and civil society. Her writing has appeared in a number of publications, including The Africa Report, The China-Africa Project, The Diplomat and more. Jade holds a Master’s in China and Globalisation studies from King’s College London.


Programme Manager

Rosie is the Project Manager of Africa Reimagined (AR) at Development Reimagined (DR) where she supports high-end African brands with entering the Chinese market by operating services such as trademark protection, Chinese market research, Chinese partnership building, and Africa to China logistical support and import/export services. Rosie has worked with DR for over two years now with proven success in helping high-end African brands navigate the Chinese market. She is extremely passionate about her work because more African brands selling in the Chinese marketplace means African countries can export MORE value-added goods, create MORE jobs and foster MORE innovation in African countries.

Rosie is also alumni of the School of International Studies at Peking University in Beijing where she is also an editor at the Peking Africa Think Tank. PATT is led by a diverse group of scholars who specialise in African Studies within the context of Sino-Africa relations.



Lauren has lived in six countries from the Americas to Europe and Asia and speaks both French and Spanish proficiently. At Development Reimagined, Lauren’s research focuses on climate action both in the Asia-Pacific and in Africa, and how countries are using tools such as SDGs and Covid-19 action to build a more climate-resilient future. She holds a Masters in International Relations from Leiden University.



Etsehiwot holds a Masters’s degree in Development Studies from the London School of Economics. She has diverse experience in humanitarian and development issues by working in both multilateral organizations and international non-governmental organizations. Etsehiwot is currently a consultant focusing on the SDGs and development finance.


Economist Consultant

Dibekulu is an economist by training. He holds an MSc in International Development Studies from Palacky University Olomouc, an MSc in Development Economics from the University of Clermont Auvergne, and an MSc in Economics, Finance, and International Integration from the University of Pavia. At Development Reimagined, he works as an Economist consultant. He has strong data analysis skills, with research interests centring around development finance, impact assessment, food security, and agricultural insurance.


Project Manager

Osaru is a health professional with an MSc in Health Systems Policy and an interest in women’s health and population management. At Development Reimagined, she applies her health sector experience to global health research and collating locally applicable development insights from China.


Research Analyst

Ferdinando’s research at Development Reimagined is centred on South-South Cooperation dynamics, specifically on the analysis of Chinese investment and debt flows in Africa and their linkages to African industrialisation. He is currently a Yenching Scholar at Peking University, after having graduated from the University of Cambridge with an MPhil in Development Studies.


Research Analyst

David is a Research and data analyst at Development Reimagined. His scholarly focus is mostly on interdisciplinary research in demographic economics and development with interests in migration, economic development and policy, education, health and subjective well-being. He is currently a PhD scholar at Nelson Mandela University from which he also holds B.com Economics and Statistics and M.com respectively.


Research Analyst Kenya

Ivory is a Kenyan lawyer with experience in policy research and analysis. She also supports the communications team at DR. Ivory speaks English, Swahili and French.


Research And Data Analyst China 

Joy Ene is a Research and Data Analyst at DR. Joy is passionate about African/global development, poverty eradication and trade policies between underdeveloped and developing countries. She is also a fourth-year student of International Economics and Trade at the  Liaoning University, Shenyang, China. She serves as the President of the Student Union, Liaoning University, International Students chapter.


Research Analyst 

Chensi Li is a research analyst. She has previously worked for local NGOs in Nigeria and Cameroon and think-tanks in China.  Her research areas include Sino-African relations, African foreign affairs, public diplomacy, state-building and national governance.

Yixin Yu

Research Analyst 

Yixin is a Junior Research Analyst and her focus areas is on public-private partnership and entrepreneurship. She has over three years of working experience in both private and public sectors in Ethiopia. She was the China Liaison Officer for project ‘Partnership for Investment and Growth in Africa’ at International Trade Centre, where she accumulated rich experience in investment and trade promotion


Founder and CEO

Hannah Ryder is the Founder & CEO of Development Reimagined. A former diplomat and economist with 20 years of experience, named one of 100 most influential Africans in 2021, she is also Senior Associate for the Africa Program of the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS), sits on the Board of the Environmental Defence Fund, and is a member of UAE's International Advisory Council on the New Economy. Prior to her role at DR, Ms Ryder led the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s work with China to help it scale up and improve its cooperation with other developing countries, including in Africa. She has also played various advisory roles for the UN and OECD and co-authored the seminal Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change in 2006.