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China-Africa trade deficit prominent at conference

UPDATED: Sun., Sept. 2, 2018, 10:19 p.m.

Chinese People’s Liberation Army honor guard are seen during the welcoming ceremony for Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo, at the Great Hall of the People Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018. (Nicolas Asfouri / AP)
Chinese People’s Liberation Army honor guard are seen during the welcoming ceremony for Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo, at the Great Hall of the People Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018. (Nicolas Asfouri / AP)

BEIJING – African leaders will likely press their Chinese hosts at a conference this week to help narrow their trade deficits with Beijing by shifting more manufacturing to their continent, the chief executive of the biggest African bank said.

China has passed Europe and the United States as the biggest trading partner of most African countries. Most run large deficits with Beijing, exporting minerals and buying Chinese manufactured goods.

“The question of the trade imbalance is one that I think will be placed firmly on the table by the African delegates,” the chief executive of South Africa’s Standard Bank Group, Sim Tshabalala, told reporters.

China’s commercial presence in Africa has prompted complaints in some countries that the continent gets too little from the relationship. Africa is a major target of Beijing’s “Belt and Road” initiative to build ports, highways and other trade-related infrastructure, but some critics in Tanzania, Kenya and other countries say they leave hosts with too much debt.

“I would expect African leaders to put on the table the opportunity that arises from building the African continent’s manufacturing capability in a way that is in the best interests of the African continent but benefits China as well,” Tshabalala said Saturday.

The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, opening today, brings together leaders from China and more than 50 African countries. Dozens of African leaders have met with Chinese President Xi Jinping ahead of the conference.

Participants want to “advance common growth and development,” said South Africa’s foreign minister, Lindiwe Sisulu.

Some Chinese manufacturers are expanding to Africa but most Chinese investment is in mining or construction of infrastructure. A state-owned automaker, BAIC Group, announced plans this year to start producing electric cars in South Africa.


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