The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), which met in Beijing earlier this week, has become an essential platform for Africa’s social and economic advancement. The progress that has been made in the 18 years since FOCAC was established demonstrates the tangible and lasting benefit of the forum to Africa and China.
The relationship that has been forged through FOCAC is premised on the fundamental and inalienable right of the African people to determine their own future. It is premised on the African Union’s Agenda 2063. It is a vision of an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the international arena. It is a vision of a continent where commerce, trade, investment, skills and knowledge move freely across the borders that were imposed on us by our colonial rulers.
We are working to build an Africa that is defined by good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law, where all its people live in peace and security. It is an Africa with a strong cultural identity, common heritage, shared values and ethics. Importantly, it is an Africa whose development is people-driven, relying on the capability and potential of its people.
Through FOCAC, China has shown that it is a valuable and committed partner in advancing Agenda 2063. China’s economic ascendance over the last three decades has been remarkable. It is now the world’s second largest economy and third largest foreign investor. It has lifted millions of its people out of poverty and has met almost all of the Millennium Development Goals. There are many valuable lessons that Africa can learn from China’s impressive growth model and its approach to meeting the needs of its people. Significantly, China has used its substantial capacity and resources as a catalyst for development in other markets.
China is currently Africa’s largest trade partner. However, much of what is exported from Africa are raw materials and primary products, and much of what is imported from China are finished goods. This obviously limits the ability of African countries to extract the full value for their abundant natural resources and to create work for their people. We should use platforms like FOCAC to balance the structure of trade between Africa and China.
China has also become a major investor on the continent. As we look to expand Chinese investment in Africa, we need to encourage more local partnerships between Chinese and African entrepreneurs. Through the transfer of knowledge and technology, such partnerships can contribute to the development and sustainability of African businesses. They will be contributing to the expansion of Africa’s productive capacity and the creation of new industries.
It is important also that we promote investment-led trade between Africa and China, which addresses the nature and quality of investment in Africa. We should seek inward investment that enables industrial development and the export of more value-added products.
Developments on the African continent are further expanding on the potential benefits of cooperation. Great opportunities will be created through the establishment of the African Continental Free Trade Area. It will establish a single market of more than a billion people with considerable economic potential. It will promote the industrialisation of African economies and position the continent as a global competitor. This should provide a greater incentive for Chinese companies to invest in Africa.
The economic value of FOCAC – to both Africa and China – is particularly important in the context of an increasingly uncertain global environment. Global economic volatility and heightened concerns about peace and stability render developing countries particularly vulnerable. There is a renewed threat to the rules-based multilateral global trading system, which although imperfect, does provide stability, predictability and a greater degree of fairness.
We should be using platforms such as FOCAC to reaffirm our shared commitment to multilateralism, a fair and transparent system of international trade and a global economic architecture that promotes the interests of the developing world.
Africa is the next frontier growth market in the world. In the coming decades, it will create many opportunities, not only for its people, but also for economic partners such as China. China’s investment in Africa, its strengthening trade ties and its consistent support for Africa’s development will benefit the people of Africa and the people of China well into the future.
As African countries, we need to work together to ensure that platforms like FOCAC effectively serve the interests of our people and contribute to achieving the Africa we want.
Cde Cyril Ramaphosa is the President of the African National Congress