Challenges of and opportunities from the commodity price slump


  • Lucas Atkins
  • Deborah Brautigam
  • Yunnan Chen
  • Jyhjong Hwang


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This first edition of the China-Africa Economic Bulletin provides a comprehensive overview of the key channels of China-Africa economic engagement over the last decade, with a focus on shifting economic trends in the past five years. The collapse of global commodity prices beginning in 2014, tied with the domestic slowdown in China, has significant implications for the tenor and nature of China’s economic relationship with African countries going forward. Our data shows most recent figures up to 2015, as well as the broader economic trends: bilateral trade; Chinese outward direct investment to Africa; Chinese labor and contract values; and Chinese loans to African governments. The effect of low commodity prices has been salient in almost every aspect of China-Africa economic relations, most visibly in trade, and may indicate a shift away from the intensive trade-based relationship that characterized the height of China-Africa relations in the 2000s.

Between 2014 and 2015, Chinese imports of African goods dropped by 42%, from US$79.8 billion to US$46.1 billion. This is due primarily to lower oil export values, which constitutes China’s top import from Africa, though other import products also declined in value.

FDI flows in 2015 from China to Africa fell to US$3.0bn from the previous high of US$3.4bn in 2013. This may reflect the effect of falling commodity values on investor confidence, as well as China’s domestic slowdown.

The total number of Chinese workers in Africa in 2015 is estimated at 263,508, and has risen gradually over the previous five years from 187,400 in 2009. Two countries, Algeria and Angola, host the majority of recorded Chinese laborers on the continent.

Total Chinese loans from both government and commercial sources totaled US$11.8bn in 2015, constituting a US$1.7bn decrease compared to 2014. This is the second year in a row where Chinese loans to Africa decreased, due in part to the commodity price slump that hindered African countries’ ability to borrow using resources as securities.

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