The West and Central African trade profile, with a special review of the relationship with China and regional agricultural trade

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The West and Central African trade profile, with a special review of the relationship with China and regional agricultural trade

The West and Central African trade profile, with a special review of the relationship with China and regional agricultural trade

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Working Papers ~ Yolanda Potelwa, Ron Sandrey and Sun Zhina

The objective of this paper* is to examine the West and Central African (WCA) trade profile, with some reference to the trading relationship with China and the agricultural trade profile of the region. We start by giving a ‘health warning’ about the data, however. This data is sourced exclusively from the International Trade Centre (ITC) but we emphasise that despite this warning the ITC is the best available data source.

The European Union (EU) was consistently the main destination of WCA exports, albeit with fluctuations in the export share. The BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and Africa increased in importance, while the United States of America (US) share declined dramatically. Within Africa, Gabon was the main export destination, followed by South Africa (increasing) and Côte d’Ivoire (consistent). By product, exports were dominated by crude petroleum and, combined with the related products of petroleum gases and refined petroleum, mineral fuels had a market share of just on three-quarters of the total exports during 2014. Nigeria was the dominant exporter followed by Côte d’Ivoire and Equatorial Guinea.

Again the most significant partner for regional imports was the EU, although its importance declined over time in the face of relentless competition from China. The percentage shares of most other trading partners were remarkably consistent over the period. The main import was refined petroleum oil and this was followed by commodities not elsewhere specified and crude petroleum oils. Nigeria was responsible for around one-third of the total imports; Ghana and Liberia were the next main regional importers.

The region is somewhat unusual in that while exports to BRICs roughly doubled over the period from 2001 to 2014 as a percentage share of total exports China was not the main BRIC destination; this position belongs to India. Conversely, China as an import source increased dramatically from 4.2% of the WCA imports in 2001 to 20.9% in 2014 and this increase is showing no signs of abating. Further to the data ‘health warning’ given earlier we are somewhat cautious in the interpretation of the data, although it can be stated that mineral fuels were the main export, followed by ores and logs and wood-related products.

Agricultural exports from WCA were again mainly destined for the EU while Africa was the second most important destination with over $2 billion in exports for the last four years of the review. The US was the main individual country destination, followed by India and Malaysia. Burkina Faso, Ghana and Nigeria were the three main African destinations for 2014. Côte d’Ivoire was the main regional exporter of agricultural products followed by Ghana and Nigeria. Cocoa and cocoa-related products were the main agricultural export followed by edible fruit and nuts, oil seeds and animal and vegetable fats and oils.

The EU has long been the main source of WCA imports, but BRICs headed by India and Brazil caught up and indeed surpassed the EU during 2012. Africa was next, headed by Côte d’Ivoire and then South Africa. Nigeria was the leading importer, followed by Ghana and Benin. The cereal products of rice and wheat were the main agricultural imports, followed by sugar and milk powders.

This paper was prepared during a tralac ‘Geek Week’ data training workshop during the week of October 5 to 9, 2015.


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