Q&A: Shanghai Port disruptions and impact on African businesses and trade

Shanghai is known for its fast-paced city life, with the bright lights from the Lujiazui skyline sparkling across the Bund, attracting tourists from within China and the rest of the world. It’s a bustling trade and commercial mega-city, with Shanghai Port being one of the largest – and busiest – ports in China.

However, on April 3rd, the city came almost to a standstill, with the once thronging streets practically empty, as a full lockdown was implemented across multiple districts as 2,500 new COVID-19 cases were detected.

To explore the impacts of this, Development Reimagined’s (DR) Policy Analyst, Ivory Kairo, sat down with Yixin Yu, a Research Analyst at DR’s flagship project, Africa Reimagined (AR). AR has been closely tracking the impact of the recent Shanghai lockdown on Africa-China trade and potential implications for African businesses.

Ivory: Hi Yixin – thank you for talking with us today! We know that Africa Reimagined has been closely monitoring the Shanghai lockdown and the implications of this on trade. Can you tell us what impact the Shanghai lockdown has had on the Shanghai port?

It’s well known that Shanghai is home to the largest and busiest ports in the world, so it is perhaps no surprise that the current lockdown will significantly impact the supply of imported and exported goods.

Indeed, the impact of the lockdown is being felt by both China-based businesses, as well as businesses across the world. China-based businesses are struggling for three key reasons:

First, the transportation of freight has been made difficult as the entry and exit of collectors and port workers has been stifled leading to delayed freight collection and delivery times. Second, there are many empty imported containers at the dock that cannot be transported to the yard or repaired, due to a lack of trailer personnel on-site. Third, the port is slowly filling up with no more space to store frozen goods. The import dwell time has so far increased to eight days since the implementation of the lockdown. This has forced cargo ships to take their goods to other Chinese ports.  

Ivory: Are there any measures being taken to address the challenges at the port?

Yes, Although challenges remain, the Chinese government has taken steps to mitigate these issues of the port despite the lockdown.

Most importantly, the Shanghai Port currently has a closed-loop management system in place meaning the workers live and work in the units at the port to prevent the spread of the virus. The government has deployed 25,000 personnel to the port to facilitate this closed-loop system and implemented additional measures to ensure the smooth running of the ports, waterways, and international marine logistics supply chains. For example, there are 12,328 telephone personnel who address issues regarding port waterway passage alongside port collection and distribution vehicles issues. Further, the government has asked state officers to check and review any unreasonable epidemic prevention measures to ensure the smooth running of supply chains.

Nevertheless, port workers have raised concerns over the system and say supplies will eventually run out if restrictions are not eased soon. They also foresee low supplies of inventory, for example, boxes that are necessary for shipping and transporting the supply of goods.

So, the picture is definitely more complex than what is typically reported.

Ivory: Thank you for those insights. So, what impact has the locked down had on African businesses that export to China so far?

Well, trade between China and Africa hit an all-time high in 2021, rising by 35% totalling to USD 254 billion. So far, it is unclear to what extend the impact of current lockdowns will have on African businesses, so businesses are yet to face a huge blow on their exports to China. However, several reports have suggested that potential impacts will stem from China’s reduced demand for raw materials due to reduced economic activity and that supply chains may be affected by delays in China’s exports which many African businesses often utilise within different aspects of their production.

Additionally, in China, we also expect that there may be lower consumer spending. When in lockdown, people may focus on buying essential goods, right? There have been numerous reports of people facing difficulties receiving deliveries – especially deliveries from abroad – both in areas in lockdowns and even areas not in lockdowns, due to policies around potential parcel contamination.

However, beyond this, the operations in Africa’s largest port in Durban have been heavily impacted, – not by the lockdown – but due to a heavy flood which has destroyed the essential warehousing facilities and the roads at the port. The port is essential as goods such as cobalt and lithium from Congo and Zimbabwe go are exported from the port to China. So, this will likely have additional knock-on effects on trade.

Although, it is important to note that this is still largely speculative, and there is little known impact so far – only time will tell at this stage.

Ivory: Going forward, what measures can African governments put in place to cushion the effects of the trade disruptions?

I think African governments must continue to focus on long-term solutions to enhancing trade – including building up local manufacturing and increasing their manufacturing and supply-chain capacity, especially given that the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) came into force last year.

To achieve this, African governments must collectively work with China to actualise the commitments made at the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in November 2021. As our colleagues at Development Reimagined have noted, during FOCAC, the Chinese government pledged to support Africa with USD 10 billion for trade financing in a bid to support African exports, alongside setting targets such as for China to receive USD 300 billion in African imports over 2022-2024 and USD 300 billion in annual trade by 2035 – which would make China Africa’s largest export destination!

Lastly, there are also other commitments which can be utilised to support both intra-African and international trade, such as the commitment by China to provide $10 billion in new FDI by 2024 and USD 60 billion in additional FDI by 2035 – or the commitment to provide 10 connectivity assistance projects and to coordinate with the African Union’s Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA) will enhance regional infrastructure, that, in turn, will bolster trade flows and supply chain efficiency.

Ivory: I agree, now is the time to operationalise the commitments made under FOCAC to boost economic growth. Talking of FOCAC – have there been any recent developments in trade commitments?

Yes! The Chinese and African governments have come up with initiatives to bolster trade. In the past, we have seen live streams by African Ambassadors to China promoting their country’s products to Chinese consumers. Very recently, online shopping festivals are being put into good use where more than 300 commerce platforms, potentially link more than 100,000 African brands with to Chinese consumers.

There is a festival being held from 28th April to 12th May 2022 and AR is working with Kiliselect, Gaoqiao and the Ministry of Commerce through supporting African brands by participating in these festivals. AR is also supporting African brands selling on Kiliselect and Gaoqiao’s e-commerce stores that are both able to import African products with the support of the Chinese government.

So, we are starting to see some of the commitments come into action – but, as the Shanghai lockdowns have illuminated, clearly there is a need to speed up and get the ball rolling on other trade-related commitments to enhance the continent’s manufacturing capacity and international trade.

Ivory: Thank you, Yixin!


Africa Reimagined is an international consultancy that provides up to date information on the Chinese market. It offers African brands China market entry services as we provide tailor-made services that help businesses overcome challenges. To find out more about how Africa Reimagined can support your business, explore our services here or book a free consultation here.

It is a flagship project of Development Reimagined, an African-led international development consultancy.

Disclosure: Established in 2019, “KiliSelect(非洲心选) is Kilimall’s African import e-commerce business in China, both B2C and B2B business. It is the official import platform of the China-Africa Economic and Trade Expo (CAETE)

Special thanks to Ivory Kairo and Yixin Yu for their research and contributions.

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.


We support our clients throughout the whole onboarding and sales process on Chinese e-commerce platforms including registration, international and China-mainland logistics, storage, payment transfers, and marketing & advertising strategies.

In addition to supporting our clients with onboarding onto e-commerce platforms or developing their own WeChat stores, we also have our own Africa Reimagined e-commerce stores for our clients to sell on.
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