China grants zero-tariff treatment to six African countries in effort to bolster trade relations

Democratic Republic of the Congo

8th December 2023 – (Beijing) Beijing has extended zero-tariff treatment on 98 per cent of products to six African countries, effective from December 25. The exempted nations, including Angola, Gambia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Madagascar, Mali, and Mauritania, will benefit from tariff-free entry of their taxable products into the Chinese market, according to the Customs Tariff Commission of the State Council.

These African nations are renowned for their rich natural resources, with the DRC being a principal source of over 60 per cent of China’s cobalt imports, and Angola serving as a major exporter of petroleum and diamonds. The commission noted that the zero-tariff treatment aims to symbolize the spirit of friendship and cooperation between China and Africa, further fostering the development of a high-quality China-Africa community with a shared future.

This initiative comes in the wake of similar measures benefiting 21 African countries over the past two years, as part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s pledge to facilitate “green lanes” for African agricultural exports to China. Introduced during the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in 2021, the tariff cuts were introduced to expand the range of products covered by zero-tariff treatment and accelerate border processing.

Amid these developments, trade between China and Africa has been substantial, reaching US$234.8 billion in the first 10 months of 2023. The data from China’s General Administration of Customs revealed that imports to China accounted for US$91.49 billion of this total, underscoring the significance of the trade relationship between China and the African continent.

The Customs Tariff Commission has indicated plans to extend the zero-tariff treatment to all the “least-developed countries” that enjoy diplomatic ties with Beijing. This move intends to enable these countries to export over 8,000 different products to China without incurring customs duties. While China has primarily engaged in importing raw materials from Africa, these new measures aim to diversify trade by facilitating the export of agricultural products.

In line with these developments, the DRC is poised to sell goods such as coffee, palm oil, rubber, cotton, and cocoa to China without facing tariffs, while Angola’s tariff-free items include coffee, sisal, fruit, seafood, and spices.

The trade imbalance between China and Africa has been a subject of critique, with concerns raised about the promotion of an unhealthy balance, characterised by China exporting finished products to Africa while predominantly importing raw materials. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni recently appealed to Beijing to open its market for finished goods, highlighting the importance of trading in finished products to create jobs and enhance economic value.