August 2023: The BRICS Summit has kicked off this week in South Africa, including a new announcement by President Cyril Ramphosa that South Africa will export beef to China. But what is the context for this announcement?
Indeed, this 15th BRICS Summit in Johannesburg arrives at a crucial moment. Many countries are grappling with food inflation and trying to boost food security and sovereignty.
CGTN reports emphasize the BRICS’ commitment to addressing endemic issues like poverty and rural development, key challenges across Asia, Africa, and South America. But how true is this? What can be said about the state of Africa’s current agricultural trade with the BRICS relative to G7 countries, and what this might imply for food security and sovereignty?
Although arguably having less historical ties to African countries, the BRICS countries, overall, tend to import more agricultural products from the African continent as a proportion of their overall agricultural imports versus the G7. South Africa consistently leads, with roughly 18% of its agricultural imports sourced from fellow African nations.
However, as BRICs have, to date, had a smaller economic footprint than G7 countries, their imports from African countries in absolute values have been surging over the last five years, but they still hover around half of those to the G7. In 2022, while Africa’s agricultural exports to G7 nations reached US$21.26 Billion, BRICS nations marked their peak at US$10.67 Billion. Of this, China’s imports from Africa made up 49% of total BRICs imports.
Set against this, over the past five years, African nations have increasingly sourced agricultural imports from France, the USA, Brazil, and India.
Amongst the BRICS and G7, only China and Canada are changing their import patterns significantly when it comes to Africa. Africa’s exports to China have nearly doubled in value between 2017-2022, while over the same period, Africa’s exports to Canada rose by 73%, nearly double the growth in other G7 countries.
But does this matter? Significantly so. Improperly managed import dependencies can lead to food insecurity. A case in point is India’s recent export ban on non-basmati white rice in July 2023, which the data suggests has likely affected African nations more than Ukraine’s wheat did (Read Development Reimagined’s report on this here).
That said, African nations display varied import dependencies on the G7 and the BRICS. Despite having agricultural trade deficits with G7 and BRICS countries, Africa’s imports from the two blocs have varied annually, indicating shifts in Africa’s reliance on imports.
With BRICS, Africa has achieved an agricultural trade surplus with China between 2018 and 2022, but has faced deficits with other BRICS countries. With G7, Africa has had consistent agricultural trade deficits with France, Canada, and the USA between 2017 and 2022. But with the rest of the G7, Africa has achieved trade surpluses throughout the same period. Hence, there’s no single narrative to this tale.
In conclusion, if BRICS and the G7 are really focused on food security and sovereignty in African countries, they will all aim to support as many African countries as possible boost local productivity, economies of scale, and value addition of agricultural goods, while gradually opening up their markets and reducing their own agricultural exports to African countries.
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Special thanks go to Meghna Goyal, Rugare Mukanganga, Ovigwe Eguegu, and Sena Voncujovi for their work on the graphics and collecting/analysing the underlying data and this accompanying article.
The data was collated primarily from WITS/UN Comtrade, as well as media reports. Our in-house methodology is based on an analysis of recent agricultural trade trends (both externally and regionally), import bans and restrictions, and other trends.
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