Booming China-Africa logistics offers lifeline, economic promise for Africa

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Ethiopia’s national flag carrier Ethiopian Airlines has recently transported a batch of COVID-19 vaccines from Beijing to Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe.

So far, China has provided COVID-19 vaccines to more than 30 African countries. Smooth logistic routes between China and Africa during the COVID-19 pandemic have helped African countries fight the pandemic, promoted two-way exchanges of products and ensured that the continent’s economic recovery is on the right track.

Vaccines have been the fastest growing and one of the most important items in logistics and transportation between China and Africa.Fitsum Abadi, managing director of cargo and logistic services of Ethiopian Airlines, said that the frequency of flights to and from China has doubled from about 63 times per week before the pandemic to about 120 times per week now.

“We have been transporting PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) from China to the rest of the world. In Africa, we have transported (PPE) to 52 countries,” said Abadi. Cross-border air transportation of medicine requires strict timeliness of transportation and storage safety. Therefore, the construction of a vaccine route between China and Africa became a strong logistic guarantee amid the pandemic.

Last year, Ethiopian Airlines announced its partnership with Cainiao Smart Logistics Network, the logistics arm of China’s Alibaba Group, to launch a cold chain air freight service for transporting temperature-controlled medicines twice a week from China’s Shenzhen to other countries via Dubai and Addis Ababa, according to Ethiopian Airlines.

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The company said it has worked with governments, international organizations, vaccine manufacturers and other partners to provide fast and efficient logistics solutions for the export and transportation of nucleic acid testing reagents and vaccines produced in China.

Apart from vaccines and other epidemic prevention materials, the channels and products seen in China-Africa trade are becoming more diversified.In 2020, Guangzhou Port Group opened two new African routes. As one of the largest comprehensive main hub ports and container trunk ports in southern China, the company is committed to expansion in the African market and has managed more than 20 African routes.

Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport currently has five regular routes to Africa, covering countries including Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya and Rwanda. In 2020, there were about 580 flights to and from Africa, transporting 100,000 tonnes of cargo, said the airport, adding that the value of trade with Africa was about 20 billion yuan (3.05 billion U.S. dollars), an increase of 10 percent year on year.

According to Guangzhou Customs, exports to Africa through Baiyun airport are mainly electronic products and daily necessities, while imports are mostly African agricultural products and seafood. Since last year, supplies for epidemic prevention and other daily necessities have been greatly increased.

In the first two months of this year, the value of trade with Africa through the Baiyun airport reached 3.87 billion yuan, about 1.9 times more than that in the same period last year, Guangzhou Customs said.Official data showed that China has been Africa’s largest trading partner for more than a decade.

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Over the past three years, China’s agricultural imports from Africa have grown at an average annual rate of 14 percent, making China the second-largest agricultural importer in Africa.

As China-Africa trade has expanded, Kenya Airways has been considering adding new cargo flights to China, said Dick Murianki, director of Kenya Airways Cargo, told Xinhua in Nairobi.

“We currently fly into Guangzhou but are looking at going to other Chinese cities,” he added. Micah Cheserem, head of the Equator Flower Farm in Eldoret, Kenya who manages about 30 hectares of rose fields and 20 hectares of avocado fields, said China’s demand for flowers, avocados and other agricultural products has been growing, and the farm has been increasing shipments thanks to improved cold chain transportation.

Amid the pandemic, Chinese enterprises shared their technical experience in the digital economy with African partners, held various online exhibitions and invited African countries to sell products through livestreaming.

Africa’s major e-commerce platform Jumia said that it expects more cooperation with China amid robust sales during the epidemic.

“I think the Chinese merchants have played a large role in supporting us and our platform to become relevant for the African consumers because they have a huge assortment, and almost everything that a consumer might need is produced and manufactured in China in a variety of ranges and colors,” Apoorva Kumar, executive vice president of logistics services at Jumia, told Xinhua in Nairobi.

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Philip Wu, president of the Guangzhou Inter-Africa Express Co., Ltd., said the company carries more than 16 million cross-border e-commerce parcels every year.

“Cross-border e-commerce is a new growth point in China-Africa trade,” said Wu. Liu Jisen, executive dean of the Institute for African Studies at Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, said the difference in industrial structure has provided an endogenous impetus for the development of China-Africa trade.

China and Africa can meet each other’s needs in trade, overcome barriers in trade channels, strengthen connectivity and ensure the development of industrial and supply chains, said Liu.

Greenroad International Logistics, a company based in Shanghai with branches in 25 African countries, said it plans to open new overseas branches in South Africa and Zimbabwe this year.”I think China and Africa are in a very strong cooperation,” said Yves Ndizeye, a Rwandan intern in the company.

“So my future plan is going to be related to what the company is willing to do … it is green logistics we are doing. We are seeing a brighter future between China and Africa.”

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