China is Outgunning the U.S. in Trade with Africa

mombasa port

Many analyst have recently claimed that Trump’s administration, and its presumed lack of interest in Africa, means that China will have a more important presence on the African continent than the U.S. However, when it comes to its trade footprint, China has already far surpassed the United States.

Simply put, China is building bigger trade relationships across Africa. Bigger  than the United States, and anyone else for that matter.

MIT’s Observatory of Economic Complexity has collected trade numbers from forty-four of sub-Saharan Africa’s forty-eight nations. The picture painted is clear, the United States while one of Africa’s larger trade partners is not competing with the Chinese. Using MIT’s data Graph 1 (below) shows the percentage of African exports that the U.S. and China receive. Of the forty-four countries shown, the U.S. imports more goods than China from only eleven countries.

Graph 2 shows the percentage of imports that sub-Saharan countries receive from the U.S. and China. The picture here is even more stark. Of the forty-four countries shown, the U.S. exports more goods than China to only two countries, Central African Republic and Mauritania. 

Since 2014, the trade numbers for both the U.S. and Africa have likely dropped. Both the U.S. and China, have reduced the amount of mineral resources (particularly oil) that they are importing from sub-Saharan Africa. However, China has put an emphasis on trade in consumer goods that the U.S. has not. Additionally, due to lower costs, there is a much larger market for Chinese products in Africa.

Indeed, based on the current political climate, it is hard to see how the U.S. could close the current trade gap.