Speech: What next for China-Africa Private Sector Cooperation?

Speech by Development Reimagined CEO, Hannah Ryder, at The Forum on China-Africa Private Sector Cooperation. Recommendations by the Development Reimagined team for future cooperation regarding Africa-China private sector cooperation are provided below.

Full Speech Below

Distinguished guests, Ministers, Governors, Ambassadors, colleagues and friends,

It gives me great pleasure to join you virtually this afternoon, at this forum on China-Africa Private sector cooperation, hosted by the All-China Federation of industry and commerce and the Hunan provincial government, and organised by our very close partners, the China-Africa Business Council (CABC) and Hunan Federation Of Industry And Commerce.

I have fond memories of attending the same forum in 2019 and signing an MOU with CABC at the time, so it is my pleasure to be here once again. I am also happy that the Development Reimagined team, with the support of CABC and Hunan province, is hosting the “Africa Reimagined” booth once again, showcasing 10 African sustainable and high-end brands from 8 African countries, and I encourage everyone to visit us and find out more about these amazing companies.

This year’s forum comes at a critical time for Africa’s economic and social development. As COVID-19 has spread across the world, and while China has largely recovered from it, for African countries, it has exposed a range of our strengths, as well as clarifying what African countries need in the long-term from their partnerships with others, including China, as well as the private sector and investors.

Today, I want to share with you three facts that I hope will illustrate both the opportunity ahead as well as the need, especially when it comes to health.

First, when it comes to the health sector in African countries, we cannot assume that it is all bad. The fact is, Africa’s COVID19 response to date has been very strong overall. There are some outliers, but with the AU CDC strategy of Communication, Coordination, Cooperation, and Collaboration, 70% of African countries initially responded to the COVID19 threat with social distancing measures before even recording 10 cases. This is not a dark continent, not a continent without hope. That is an outdated and colonial view. Not every country in Africa is rising, but many are working and are real opportunities for investment and trade. These opportunities will only increase with the African continental free trade area, which became operational in January this year and creates a unified domestic and regional market.

Second, when it comes to health, the continent is highly dependent, with very skewed patterns. Only 123 million vaccines have been delivered across the continent so far. While China is the largest source of these vaccines, that still only provides vaccines for less than 5% of the entire continent’s population. And so far, no vaccines have been produced on the continent, although work is ongoing. The fact is Africa produces 1% of the vaccines it consumes. It imports the rest, the 99%. When it comes to pharmaceuticals and medical equipment, the balance is better, but it is still highly import-dependent. Yet, with its 1.2 billion population – a population expected to grow to 2.5 billion by 2050 – the need and opportunity to turn this dependency around and invest in local manufacturing is huge.

Third, when it comes to trade with China, whilst China is our largest bilateral trade partner, in general, most African countries – 40 out of 55 – import more from China than they export to China. Our exports to China are often raw materials, low-value. Our exports to China are dominated by mineral oils, ores, concentrates, agricultural products, horticulture and precious metals, most of which enter the Chinese market duty-free and quota-free. This is not sustainable, especially given the lack of jobs in African countries – over 600 million unemployed as we speak. Yet, if China is to become a high tech economy, labour-intensive manufacturing, including medical equipment, needs to relocate to lower-cost destinations, including African countries. The time is now to invest in this future, both for Africa and for China.

What do these three facts mean for private sector cooperation between Africa and China going forwards?

I suggest future cooperation in the area of health in four areas.

  1. First, helping African countries to recover swiftly from COVID19 is key. China and its private sector companies – who have already played a very strong role – should continue to supply Africa as a whole with a predictable amount of vaccines and other supplies over the coming three years. This will no doubt be in China’s interest.
  1. Second, we need to redouble efforts to push local manufacturing of personal protective equipment, medical equipment, vaccines and other essential medicines in Africa, including by Chinese companies. Any Chinese companies with a bit of interest – must be followed up, supported to match with African counterparts, and directed, for example, to the hundreds of Special Economic Zones that exist on the continent. As I explained, given Africa’s large market and China’s own domestic trends, this is a win-win opportunity.
  1. Third, we need Chinese and African counterparts to work better in partnership – to focus on joint R&D that enhances technology transfer in health and the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals. This cannot be just about Chinese stakeholders teaching African stakeholders; there is a lot for Africans to teach Chinese stakeholders. Our own African traditional medicine is hugely undervalued but very crucial.
  1. Finally, and fourth, we need to prioritise African actors. The fact is key actors and mechanisms driving African imports to China are Chinese – there are very few African actors involved. Chinese players themselves, including due to language barriers, find it difficult to identify key products available in Africa, to understand the pharmaceutical environment in African countries, cannot identify top brands in Africa, and therefore have a limited understanding of what Africa can offer. Chinese players, therefore, stick to simple products and few markets. As a practical and advisory consultancy, we are amongst those few Africans through our flagship project Africa Reimagined, and we hope to do much more in future, with your support.

As I said at the beginning of these remarks, COVID-19 presents a distinct “moment” for change. It is time to leverage this for the benefit of both African countries and China, and by doing so in the health sector specifically, save lives, create jobs, and support development. The time is now.

Watch the full speech below

Find out more about Development Reimagined’s projects on FOCAC 2021– click here

February 2023

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