Not Just an African Tale: China’s Trade Slowdown from a Global Perspective

In recent weeks, a flurry of articles appeared pointing out that Africa’s biggest bilateral trade partner, China, had significantly slowed its imports from Africa. To prevent another oversimplified doom and gloom narrative about Africa from circulating, we decided to break down the numbers to get a deeper understanding of this phenomenon – something we continuously strive to do at Development Reimagined.

After digging deeper, the first thing we discovered was, yes, there has been a significant drop in African exports to China. Although overall China-Africa trade grew by 7.4% in the first of 2023, this was driven by increased Chinese exports to Africa which grew by 16.9% between 2022-2023 whilst Africa’s exports to China dropped by 12.11%.

Some African countries recorded double-digit declines in their overall exports to China by as much as 38% in the case of Angola and 32% in Ghana. Other African countries saw large drops in specific exports, such as a 58% decrease in Angola’s crude oil and a 46% dip in the Republic of Congo’s petroleum exports to China. These countries are likely to face significant economic setbacks in the coming months given China is their main export market and close attention should be paid to the impact of this.

But the most crucial thing we discovered is that the decline in Africa’s exports to China is neither an isolated nor unique trend – it is a global phenomenon. China’s total global exports contracted by 3.16%, and total global imports experienced a higher dip of 6.72% compared to the initial half of 2022.

Figure 1: Trend of exports from various parts of the world to China from Jan-Jun for 2022 and 2023. (Data retrieved from GACC).

Figure 1 shows that Europe, Oceania, North America, and Latin America have all recently encountered a decrease in their exports to China. Not dissimilar to Africa, Asia’s exports to China fell by 14.67% and several countries, such as Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Pakistan, Iran, and Israel all faced double-digit declines. Kuwait was significantly hard hit and faced declines as high as 33%. Other regions have also been impacted, for instance the USA’s exports to China were down by 3.54% during the first half of 2023 compared to the first half of 2022 and New Zealand faced a decline of 10%.

But what is just as important to point out, however, is that within Africa not every country experienced this dip in the same way. For example, a few African countries experienced the total opposite and saw their exports of essential minerals, metals, and ores to China rise significantly.  Guinea saw a massive 54.4% increase, as well as South Africa 10.5% and Gabon 11.6%, which will have a positive impact on their economies given that China is a focal export market for their resources.

Again, this is true of the rest of the world. In North America, unlike the USA, Canada achieved remarkable growth in its exports to China of 46.6%. Australia’s exports to China surged by 14.85% to reach an all-time high mainly due to strong Chinese demand for Australian iron ore and coal exports and many European countries saw their exports increase, namely Russia, Switzerland, France and The Netherlands. Thus, there is no single story in Africa nor across the world when it comes to their trade relationship with China.

Nevertheless, when the world’s second largest importer sees it its overall global imports dip by almost 7%, and in the case of Africa, almost double this amount, there are going to be real economic impacts which leads us to the question of why this happened in the first place.

According to China watchers and economic experts, China’s imports have decreased because China’s economy has recently experienced sluggish growth due to a slower than expected recovery from its

zero-Covid policy. This has led to a drop in consumption and construction, in particular due to property investment dropping by 7.9% in the first six months of 2023 compared to 2022. A dip construction explains why Africa’s exports to China dropped, as African raw materials are commonly used in China’s construction industry.

Nevertheless, predictions also show that China’s economic growth is set to rebound by 5.4% later in 2023 and 5.1% in 2024 meaning that both a consumption and construction boom is set to resume. Accordingly, dips in African exports to China will also likely rapidly recover, as will the rest of world’s.

Furthermore, nor is the current dip in African exports necessarily a negative phenomenon given Africa’s top priority is industrialising and producing value-added goods to export to China and beyond to diversify exports and reduce a reliance on exporting low value raw materials. This has even been marked out as an important area of focus by Chinese partners to Africa, as was shown in the “Initiative on Supporting Africa’s Industrialization,” which was announced at the special China-Africa Leaders’ Roundtable Dialogue at the recent BRICS summit held in South Africa. Trade in alternative sectors, such as sustainable technology, trade in services and increasing tourism from China to Africa is also receiving attention from African and Chinese leaders to create new areas of economic growth for the African continent.

Thus, although the initial half of 2023 has seen trade slumps, emerging news sources posit a noteworthy shift and highlight that the “worst of the decline in foreign demand is probably behind us.” In an already unstable global economy, the decline in Africa-China trade shouldn’t be isolated as an anomaly or cause for disproportionate concern. It is part and parcel of wider economic shifts affecting numerous nations, signalling not just a fluctuation in Africa-China relations, but an indication of broader economic challenges that are global in scope. As the African proverb goes, “smooth seas do not make skilful sailors,” we believe such shifts will bring new innovations to the African continent.

Meghna Goyal is a Data Analyst and Economist at Development Reimagined, an African-led, Woman-led International Development Consultancy.

Rugare Mukanganga is an Economist at Development Reimagined, an African-led, Woman-led International Development Consultancy.Rosie Wigmore is the Project Manager of the Global Trade team at Development Reimagined an African-led, Woman-led International Development Consultancy.

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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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