South Africa resumes beef exports to China – How can South Africa become a more competitive and major beef supplier to China? 

At the recent BRICS summit held in South Africa, two important trade deals were agreed between the presidents of South Africa and China. Firstly, an agreement to allow South African avocados to enter the Chinese market, and secondly, the resumption of South Africa’s beef exports to China. 

China is the world’s largest beef importer, and South Africa has been exporting a decent supply of frozen, deboned beef since September 2017. In 2018, China became the largest destination for South African beef, and in 2019, South Africa became China’s sixth biggest beef import source behind South American countries and Australia. Unfortunately, however, South Africa’s high-ranking position was dislodged by two outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease in February 2019 and then again in April 2022. 

Namibia was also granted permission to export its beef to China in 2019, but has only exported minimal volumes, peaking in value at US$ 11 million in 2019 and steadily declining to $US 5 million in 2022. Botswana has also entered talks to export its beef to China but has not yet been granted permission. 

The resumption of South Africa’s beef exports to China will certainly give South Africa’s exports a boost and support their diversification. This is because China accounts for 9.4% of South Africa’s total exports, but they are still dominated by two categories – mineral products and iron and steel, which are both unprocessed, lower value exports. This has contributed to a significant trade surplus in favour of China worth US$ 9 billion.

However, the value of South Africa’s beef exports to China were still fairly limited compared to China’s biggest beef import source – Brazil and another top competitor, Australia. In 2019, South Africa’s beef exports to China were worth just under US$ 22 million in comparison to Brazil’s US$ 2.093 billion and Australia’s US$ 1.767 billion. 

But why?

Apart from being the biggest and cheapest global beef exporter globally, a key reason why Brazil has consistently been China’s biggest beef import source is because of its dedication to the eradication and prevention of foot-and-mouth disease in its livestock. Brazil’s last outbreak was in 2004 and in 2018, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) declared Brazil free from the illness due to the vaccination of animals, border surveillance, and the creation of a countrywide laboratory network. 

Australia’s advantage, in addition to never having had a major foot-and-mouth disease outbreak, comes through extensive market research. Australia has an extremely active and well-funded beef export industry. Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA), an independent company which regulates standards for meat and livestock management in Australian and international markets, has produced a 10-year strategy focusing on producers, customers, livestock, environment, markets and systems for Australia meat and livestock industry. Through research, the MLA has discovered that 75% of all Chinese consumers place an order of priority on food safety, the food’s ability to boost the body’s immune system, quality and the country of origin.

The MLA uses a range of techniques – such as rearing health grain-fed cows, eliminates the use of antibiotics or hormones, produces marbled, wagyu beef that is one of the most expensive meats in the world and flies the majority of its beef to China to retain freshness – to match these preferences in its beef production. This has given Australia’s beef a competitive edge.

South Africa also has a similar agency, the South African Meat Industry Company (SAMIC), a quality insurance company that works to ensure quality and safe meat production in South Africa. However, it is less well funded than the MLA, meaning a higher likelihood of disease outbreaks and little Chinese consumer market research conducted.

Hence, in China, South Africa’s beef is still considered relatively low quality and is primarily sold to the foodservice sector rather than served proudly in Chinese restaurants. Turning this perception around must be a priority, including through stronger disease protection efforts and better marketing in China- including targeting standards that match Chinese consumer tastes, for example prioritising rounding off cattle for 120 days.

These lessons may also be applicable to South Africa’s neighbours — Namibia and Botswana. Rather than being competitors, these three countries could work together to increase their production capacity to meet China’s demand for beef and better compete with bigger beef exporters, such as Brazil and Australia. 

The good news is that South Africa has proved historically that it is capable of becoming a major beef supplier to the Chinese market and is more likely to achieve this now that Chinese and African leaders are pushing more than ever to boost Africa’s agricultural exports to China. Africa’s agricultural exports to China increased from US$ 4.5 billion in 2012 to almost US$ 8 billion in 2022 amidst support mechanisms, such as appointing Chinese plant health certification experts to work with several African countries on accelerating the alignment of trade standards for African agricultural goods entering China. Chinese companies, such as Greenchain, have been developing new practical supply chains of agricultural goods from Africa to China, for instance Kenyan avocados, to increase production and ease the import process to China and on to buyers. 

On the sidelines of the BRICS, President Xi Jinping proclaimed China-South Africa relations to be entering a ‘golden-era’. No doubt this will happen. However, until there is consistent improvement to South Africa’s disease prevention methods and beef production standards that put proudly-from-South Africa-beef on the plates of Chinese consumers, the new market access rules may make little difference during this new era.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

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.
Kiliselect on WeChat Stores: Africa Reimagined launched on Kiliselect, which is a foremost e-commerce store for premium African products in China and the Chinese branch of East Africa’s Kilimall. It houses brands from a range of sectors including food and beverage, skincare and homeware. Kiliselect is found on WeChat Stores, which gives the store access to 1.2 billion active WeChat users across China.
JD-Worldwide: Next year, Africa Reimagined will open the first ever flagship, pan-Africa e-commerce store for premium African brands on JD-Worldwide, the cross-border e-commerce platform of China’s largest retailer, It will sell exclusively luxury African brands from a range of sectors including, fashion and jewellery, food and beverage, skincare. and homeware.