African countries prepare for business as China reopens

Three years after closing its borders under its strict “zero COVID” policy, China has reopened its doors to allow international travelers in – and claustrophobic Chinese out – in a move that has implications for the global economy, including Africa influences.

On the continent, which has China as its biggest trading partner, African importers of cheap Chinese-made goods say they can’t wait to return to China to stock up, while many African countries also hope to attract Chinese tourists.

While concerns over the spread of COVID-19 have led some countries in Asia, Europe and North America to impose negative testing requirements for Chinese tourists, drawing Beijing’s ire, countries such as Kenya and South Africa have said they will not impose any travel restrictions on Chinese tourists limit. Travelers from China.

African businesses eye China’s reopening

Markets and stock markets around the world have soared as China reopens, with African companies hoping to cash in on the world’s second-largest economy.

“We are now open to going there and we look forward to doing so to ensure our business gets back on track,” Samuel Karanja, chief executive of the Kenya Association of Importers and Small Traders, told VOA. Pandemic years have been a “roller coaster” for traders.

“It’s been a very difficult time for these traders over the past three years because they’ve lost touch with their suppliers. Ideally, the traders could go to China and meet their suppliers or manufacturers , bring samples of the goods they need produced for them, and some of them can even wait for weeks to see the production done and the goods packed in containers and shipped back to Kenya,” he said.

Before the pandemic, Kenyan SME owners did business this way, traveling to Chinese cities including Guangzhou, where they bulk-buy everything from electronics and motorcycle spare parts to kitchenware and school stationery, Karanja said. of all things. However, after China implemented its zero-COVID policy, Kenyan businesses have had to source remotely, often with the help of unscrupulous middlemen who rip them off.

Dennis Julu, president of the South African International Association of Cross-Border Traders, echoed this sentiment, telling VOA that China’s reopening has many benefits for his organization’s members.

“China’s open borders will boost the African economy because Chinese products are cheap. African traders new to this business will be able to make their own choices. New Chinese companies will take this opportunity to convince African traders by cutting prices,” he said .

He pointed out that traveling to China is expensive, but it is easier and more economical to stay in the country and shop online. “Some companies in China sell wrong products online. Therefore, the communication process brings inconvenience to African companies.”

Cautiously optimistic

For large companies that do business with China, Christo van der Ried, chief executive of Agri SA, South Africa’s largest agricultural organization, is more cautious about the pros and cons of China’s reopening.

“It remains to be seen how this will affect South Africa. Remember, South Africa is a big exporter of certain commodities to China, such as coal, iron ore and other agricultural products. Hopefully this will increase demand for South African goods,” he said.

He also noted that South Africa needs to carefully weigh the economic benefits of the spread of COVID-19.

“I think from an economic standpoint, we’ve seen how the crackdown, the zero (-COVID) policy has impacted logistics, especially import and export logistics, and how that’s driven up shipping costs globally,” he said. “So hopefully we can manage it in a way that will boost our economy and our exports to China, but at the same time we need to manage any outbreak in South Africa very carefully.”

Attract Chinese Tourists

So, how about traveling in the other direction: Are the Chinese coming to the continent for business, for the Belt and Road infrastructure projects, or for tourism?

Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang (second from left) and African Union Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mohamed (middle) attend the inauguration ceremony of the African Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  November 11, 2023.

Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang (second from left) and African Union Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mohamed (middle) attend the inauguration ceremony of the African Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. November 11, 2023.

As soon as China opened up, Beijing quickly dispatched new Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang to his first official visit to five African countries.

Speaking at his first stop in Ethiopia, Qin assured Africa that China planned to strengthen trade ties and speed up personnel exchanges.

“First, let’s strengthen our face-to-face interactions and connections of ideas. The pandemic will end, and we can see [the] A ray of hope ahead. … We will expand exchanges and cooperation with Africa in various fields and at all levels, including exchanges and cooperation between governments, legislatures, political parties, armies and localities,” Qin said. “African political leadership is very welcome People, officials of the African Union Commission at all levels and people from African political, business and academic circles will visit in due course. “

“We will encourage Chinese companies and personnel to invest and travel in Africa. We will provide more convenience to speed up the resumption of two-way personnel exchanges.”

However, for Chinese tourists visiting South Africa, Rosemary Anderson, national president of the Federal Association of Hotels in South Africa, told VOA that the current system leaves a lot to be desired.

“Chinese tourists going to South Africa have to go to the Chinese embassy or visa office in person and wait up to months to get a visa,” she said, noting that before the pandemic in 2019, South Africa only attracted about 93,000 tourists , among the approximately 155 million Chinese outbound tourists.

FILE - Chinese tourists stand outside former South African President Nelson Mandela's residence in Johannesburg, South Africa, July 2, 2013.

FILE – Chinese tourists stand outside former South African President Nelson Mandela’s residence in Johannesburg, South Africa, July 2, 2013.

However, she noted that it was encouraging that Air China had recently launched direct flights between Beijing and Johannesburg.

Anderson said South Africa should do more to attract Chinese tourists, including public and private sector marketing initiatives specifically targeting the Chinese market, ensuring destination and product information is available on Chinese search engines, and on Chinese social networks such as Weibo and WeChat. Marketing on media channels.

As China reopens to the world, “showing you’re Chinese-friendly by, for example, offering payment platforms like WeChat Pay and Alipay, keeping Chinese holidays in mind, learning some key phrases in Mandarin, and training tour guides to speak Mandarin,” will all help, she said .

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