In the proverbial game of economic dodgeball, America usually picks Africa last. Increasingly though, the Chinese are noting and capitalizing on what they see as a missed U.S. trade opportunity with the world's second-largest continent.
Trade ties between Africa and China are exploding (projections for 2013 estimate a possible 25% increase on already-exponential rates), and China is increasingly hopeful of using the blooming economic relationship to cement the yuan as an African reserve currency. According to Simone Foxman reporting for Quartz, "20% of African central banks’ assets could be denominated in yuan by 2020." Foxman reports that in 2012, the volume of trade between Africa and China hit $198.5 billion dollars. For those keeping score, U.S.-African trade ties lagged $89.6 billion behind that.
Between now and that 2020 crest, it's thought that the endearingly named "dim sum bonds," first issued by the China Development Bank in 2007, may soon be issued by some of the more liquid African economies such as Nigeria and South Africa. (Smile, and note the regrettably named "Dim Sum Looks Tasty for Africa" Reuters piece this week.) The Chinese see African issuance of the yuan-dominated debt as the next logical step in the flourishing economic relationship.
Sarah Baynton-Glen, an analyst for Standard Chartered following these economic trends, explained, “For African issuers looking to finance capital expenditure plans, issuing bonds denominated in the yuan provides access to a new investor base, enables expansion of existing financing channels, and offers a lower cost of financing than do bonds available from other international capital markets."
It seems the Chinese have compelling reasons to be interested in Africa, but how do Africans feel about this unlikely partnership? While some consider China a welcome counterbalance to Western influence, others feel the Chinese are exploiting Africa's natural resources, a sentiment Chinese president Xi attempted to quell on his recent African tour. That said, African demand for cheap Chinese imports does suggest a mutually beneficial relationship.
Maybe Alvy Singer said it best in Annie Hall: "A relationship is like a shark. It has to constantly move forward, or it dies." And it seems for the moment, this new and unlikely pairing is swimming upstream.