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African Exporters Show Up Big At China’s International Import Expo

ciie african exporter
Credit: Xinhuanet

40 years ago, China embarked on an unprecedented policy of ‘reform and opening up’ to the rest of the world. Since then, the country has rolled out and implemented several programs and initiatives that resonate with this policy. The China International Import Expo (CIIE) is one of the major economic and trade initiatives of Beijing, which seeks to provide opportunities to exporters around the world to share in China’s large consumer market. 

On Wednesday 4th November, despite the global disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the opening ceremony of the third CIIE was held in Shanghai with a Keynote address by China’s President Xi Jinping via a video link. Delivering the keynote speech, President Xi said “the CIIE is now an international public good for the world to share, acting as a major platform for international procurement, investment promotion, cultural exchange, and open cooperation.”

“Over the past three years since its inception, the CIIE has enabled exhibits to become traded goods and exhibitors to spot more investment opportunities. It has facilitated an exchange of new and creative ideas, and better connected China and the wider world. Acting as a major platform for international procurement, for investment promotion, for cultural exchange, and for open cooperation, the CIIE is now an international public good for the world to share,” the President stated.

President Xi also announced that “going forward, China will stay committed to openness, cooperation, and unity for win-win results. We will steadfastly expand all-round opening up and explore more efficient ways to connect domestic and foreign markets and share factors of production and resources. Our aim is to turn the China market into a market for the world, a market shared by all, and a market accessible to all. This way, we will be able to bring more positive energy to the global community.”

According to CIIE.org , the six-day expo, which ended on Tuesday, took up nearly 360,000 square meters of exhibition space, an increase of 30,000 sq m from the previous edition. Nearly 400,000 professional visitors attended the event. Initial statistics show that at least 411 new products, technologies, and services made their China or global debuts at this year’s CIIE, much higher than the figure last year, according to Sun Chenghai, deputy director-general of the CIIE Bureau. 

Both online and offline exhibitions were arranged this year in light of the concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. It is estimated that a value of tentative deals reached for one-year purchases of goods and services at the third China International Import Expo hit $72.62 billion, a 2.1 percent year-on-year increase.

African Exporters ‘Showed Up Big’ Despite Covid-19

The annual CIIE is a huge opportunity for African enterprises to tap into China’s 1.4 billion market base. It is interesting to know that despite the prevailing challenges, such as lockdowns, travel restrictions, and delays in shipping their wares to China, African exporters participated in the economic and trade expo to showcase their goods and services. Bridget Mutambirwa gives an idea of how African exhibitors were represented in this year’s CIIE in an exclusive report published on China.org.cn.

After visiting exhibitor stands from Benin, Djibouti, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, and Zambia, Bridget’s impression about the participation of African companies was that “no matter what the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, African companies are determined and capable of making an indelible mark internationally and have the capacity and resources to supply raw and finished product under to global consumers,” she reported. 

Speaking on the quality of African products displayed at the Expo, Bridget said “the products on display this year were certainly more appealing to the eye. The packaging quality looks even better. As I visited the African stands, I marveled at the new branding on most food products. The branding and food packaging hit with a bang.” On the packages of chili sauces from Rwanda, Bridget noted that “the packages incorporate both Chinese and English languages on the labels that describe the contents of the products, which include chili sauces and chili oil. Again, my guess is that maybe at the previous CIIE, language could have been a possible barrier in attracting more of his potential Chinese buyers.”

According to the report, Bridget “got the impression that the African supplies are indeed studying the market in China and looking for possible features that not only describe Africa on the packages but also appeal to the eye of a foreign buyer at international level.” 

African diplomats were also seen rallying behind the food suppliers and companies of their countries that could not make it to this year’s CIIE. The ambassadors exhibited a variety of products, such as coffee, tea, olive oil, palm oil, Shea butter, dried fruits, soybeans, wines, and gemstones, the report said. 

Zambian Ambassador to China H.E. Ambassador Winnie Chibesakunda giving remarks about Zambia’s Mpundu Wild Honey Limited company said “I’m so proud of the owners of this company. Indeed they are well established and more acquainted with the CIIE. Despite new challenges owing to the pandemic, they managed to successfully participate in Shanghai in this year’s exhibition but from home (in Zambia).”

Upon visiting the Food and Agriculture pavilions, the reporter noticed that many African food products still found their way to the stalls at the CIIE. They are keeping afloat by using Chinese online platforms and marketing agents to sell their products on their behalf. Guorui, a Chinese company, was seen helping to bridge Chinese buyers and African food suppliers by selling a variety of African produce, including avocados, nuts, dried fruits, and various snacks all supplied from the continent. The company sold on behalf of suppliers via e-commerce platforms such as Taobao, Weibo, amongst others.  

“If one were to ask me what my impression of the third CIIE was with reference to the African exhibits this year, I’d say the turnout was low, but Africa certainly put a mark on the map characterized by a relentless spirit to grow and compete internationally despite any challenge. Consecutively hosting the CIIE for three years, China, on the other hand, has made it easier for African products to gain international recognition by continuing to demonstrate its policy of an open, inclusive, balanced and beneficial-to-all economic development,” the reporter stated

China currently has a population of about 1.4 billion people with a middle-income group estimated at 400 million. How can African companies and enterprises better position themselves to benefit from China’s vast and expanding consumer market?

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