CIIE: Paving the Way for More African Products in China?

The China International Import Expos (CIIE) has proven to be a great opportunity for African businesses to gain access to China’s vast consumer market, but is it enough? Most African products that have been displayed are agricultural products which limits the CIIE’s impact on lifting African economies to a higher level and showcasing the true potential of Africa’s exports to China. Although the CIIE plays an important role in promoting African products to Chinese consumers, more efforts can be made to diversify the types of African products that are displayed to boost Africa’s value-added exports to China.

Held annually since 2018 by the Ministry of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China Shanghai Municipal People’s Government, the CIIE serves as a vital platform for the Chinese market to establish global business relationships. The CIIE is also a foremost Chinese expo for businesses and brands from across the globe to enter or expand their businesses in China. It generates a vast amount of investment, business deals and sales – this year’s CIIE generated deals worth US $78.41 billion – a 6.7% increase from 2022.

African embassies and businesses also attend the CIIE to promote African products and source new inroads into the Chinese market. In line with the Chinese government’s mandate to promote African products to boost Africa’s agricultural exports to China, the CIIE offers promotional and funding support for African embassies in China and businesses.

Past CIIEs have proven to be an impactful platform to launch African products in China. For example, Kenya has been shipping frozen avocados to China since 2019 but used CIIE 2022 to showcase its fresh avocados to increase exports. Now, 30% of Kenya’s avocado exports are destined for China up from US $1.08 million in 2022 to US $7.60 million within the first nine months of 2023. Mpundu Honey from Zambia, a brand which has been exhibiting since the first CIIE, have annually scaled up displays and orders from under one ton in 2018 to nearly 20 tons in 2023.

The national pavilion of South Africa, which was one of the five countries of honor on this year’s CIIE.

This year’s CIIE was an even bigger success with 43 African country pavilions, 27 stands for African businesses and organizations and 20 African agricultural companies. South Africa, China’s largest African trade partner and BRICS member, was bestowed as country of honor and free booths and tax benefits were extended to African least developed countries. This year also saw several African nations exhibit for the first time including Central Africa, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Sierra Leone, Togo and Zimbabwe.

Pineapple from Benin which received a lot of interest from visitors and media during its first appearance at the CIIE.

New African products were also displayed and garnered substantial attention. For example, just two months after signing an export agreement with China for its pineapples, Benin presented its sweet pineapples to Chinese consumers and businesspersons, which attracted crowds of attendees and media. African branded products were also on display, such as skincare products from Organic Trade & Investment skincare, Comafrica, Ingram’s, SHEACOCOA and Aloe Master Care. There were also wines from Presidential and Golden Velvet, Rooibos tea from Cape Valley, juice from Mazoe, cocoa powder from Cocoa LOVE and accessories from Shlobo Designs. Besides consumer products, Rethread Africa from Kenya presented their biodegradable textile fabric technology in the Innovation Incubation Zone, while Patrick Kwete from the DR Congo exhibited a self-developed AI robotic arm.

In addition, our firm, Development Reimagined, in partnership with the International Trade Centre (ITC), provided pre-CIIE training for over 67 SMEs from developing countries including 13 African countries that displayed their products in the ITC booth and met with business partners with the support of ITC. Their exhibits included cosmetics, handicrafts, homeware, wine, food, spices and other agricultural products.

But in comparison to other regions, Africa’s presence at the CIIE is tiny. Out of 3,813 exhibitors only 106 were from Africa, making Africa the least represented region (Africa also contributes the least amount to China’s global imports). Furthermore, over 60% of the African products on display were unprocessed, unbranded agricultural products and less than 10% were branded, non-agricultural products. There were also high levels of product repetition, creating unnecessary competition. For example, there were at least seven African coffee brands from five different countries and shea butter was showcased in a number of African pavilions. It was also noteworthy that the branded products received relatively little media coverage in comparison to the agricultural products, which suggests Africa is still seen as a source of primarily unprocessed products by Chinese media.

The arrival of new African products and businesses at CIIE is encouraging and creates new opportunities for many countries and companies to gain access to the Chinese market. However, the over emphasis on low-value, unprocessed products means that the benefits to exporting countries in terms of economic growth, job creation and industrial chain advancement are, ultimately, limited. This is especially problematic for a continent with ambitions manufacturing goals.

Crowds gather at the national pavilion of Mali to watch exhibitors performing with Djembes.

To enhance the impact of CIIE on African economies and Africa-China trade, the Chinese government should work with the African diplomatic core in Beijing to select a wider variety of value-added, branded products for the CIIE and bring more media exposure to these products including their specific Geographical Indications. Hosting specifically Sino-African business match-making events for these products, should also be considered to increase sales and promotional opportunities. Organizations, such as ITC and DR can also take the lead by focusing their attention on displaying high-quality, branded goods to showcase just how rich and varied African products and brands really are.

Author: Yuejie Shi is Research and Data Analyst at Development Reimagined with a special focus on Global Trade and China-Africa Trade.

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Trevor Lwere

Research and Coordination Analyst

Trevor Lwere is a Research and Coordination analyst at Development Reimagined with a background in Economics and Global Affairs. His interests include geopolitics, geoeconomics and economic development. He holds a Masters’ degree in Global Affairs fro Tsinghua University and a BA Economics from the University of Notre Dame.

Yujie Shi

 Policy and Research Analyst

Yuejie Shi is a Research and Data Analyst at Development Reimagined with a special focus on Global Trade and China-Africa Trade.

Sena Voncujovi

Research Analyst

Sena Voncujovi is a research and policy analyst at Development Reimagined. Voncujovi specializes in global health issues, Japan-Africa relations, and China-Africa relations. He served as the Editor-in-chief of Peking University’s Africa Think Tank (PATT) during his master’s in International Relations & Politics as a Yenching Scholar. Voncujovi previously advised the Ghanaian government for the 2019 TICAD 7 Conference held in Yokohama. He is the co-founder of Jaspora, Tokyo’s largest community of African diasporan diplomats, changemakers, professionals, students, and business people.

Rugare Mukanganga


Rugare is an economist at Development Reimagined, providing economic and data analysis support across projects.

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.

Ivory Kairo

Communications Support

Ivory is a Kenyan lawyer with experience in policy research and analysis. She also supports the communications team through liaising with African brands, creating graphic content and other external outputs at AR. Ivory speaks English, Swahili and French

Huiyi Chen

Partnership Development

Huiyi Chen is a Research and Coordination Analyst on China-Africa cooperation and leading the engagement with Chinese stakeholders at Development Reimagined.

Jinyu Chen

Research Analyst | Paris, France

Jinyu is a dual-degree Master’s student at Sciences Po & Peking University.  At Africa Reimagined, Jinyu produces research to foster better mutual understanding between African clients and Chinese consumers. 


Jade Scarfe

Communications Support
Jade is a research analyst and communication support at Africa Reimagined. She supports with liaising with African brands, creating content and gathering China market research.

Yike Fu

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.

Rosie Wigmore

Project Manager | Beijing, PRC

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.

Leah Lynch

Deputy Director | Beijing, PRC

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.

Hannah Ryder

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.


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