The relationship between Zimbabwe and China have been growing strong over the past few years, thanks to the “friends to all and enemy to none” strategy implemented by the Second Republic under the stewardship of President E.D Mnangagwa.
The relationship has seen several Chinese funded projects being implemented in Zimbabwe, and increased inflow of investment and transfer of knowledge.
As Beijing and Harare relationship has been growing strong, the focus now has been unlocking further economic benefits for Zimbabwean businesses, particularly in the area of trade, investment, and tourism.
Anchored on the economic diplomacy agenda, being implemented by the Government, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Zimbabwe has started a journey of harnessing all opportunities that are embedded in its excellent relations with China.
To this end, Zimbabwean and Chinese businesses will engage during a business forum scheduled for 30 May – 1 June in Beijing, where the focus will be strengthening economic ties between the two countries.
The Forum, organised by national trade development organisation, ZimTrade, with support from Zimbabwe Investment Development Agency (ZIDA), and Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA), is intended to accelerate engagements between Government related institutions, and private sector in the two countries.
Participating companies from Zimbabwe will discuss supply contracts with Chinese businesses, which is expected to drive the countries exports into the Asian market.
China’s imports from Zimbabwe have grown at an exponential rate over the past few years, and indications are that there are abundant opportunities for local products in the market.
The growth of Zimbabwe’s exports to China have been on the back of good political relations between the two countries, that have seen extended mutual business interests over the past years.
The focus going forward is ensuring that the good political relations contribute to export growth, with emphasis on value-added products, and fresh horticultural produce.
Direct data statistics available on Trade Map show that Zimbabwe’s exports to China have grown over the last five years, from US$960 thousand in 2017, to US$256 million in 2021.
Although this figure is currently dominated by primary products, the huge jump alone shows potential for Zimbabwe to grow its exports to China.
The growth in exports also indicates that local companies are unlocking direct access to the market, unlike previously when most of them would lose to middle-man in other countries.
Engagements from the scheduled Zimbabwe-China Business Forum are expected to further open direct access to the market, as participating companies will connect with leading distributors of value added products and horticultural produce in the market.
Expectations are that exports to the market will continue to grow, and Zimbabwe will introduce new product lines into the market, riding on available opportunities.
China’s import structure
With a market of over 1,4 billion people according to World Bank, China is one of the largest importing countries in the world.
According to Trade Map, China’s imports have grown from around US$1,82 trillion in 2012, to US$2,68 trillion in 2021.
Some of the top imported products by China last year include electrical machinery and equipment; mineral fuels, mineral oils and products of their distillation; ores, slag and ash; machinery, mechanical appliances, nuclear reactors, boilers; and medical equipment.
Other top imported products by China are vehicles other than railway or tramway rolling stock; plastics and their articles; minerals and copper; organic chemicals; oil seeds and oleaginous fruits; and iron and steel.
In terms of supplying markets, leading exporters to China last year were island of Taiwan (US$250 billion), Republic of Korea (US$213 billion), Japan (US$206 billion), United States of America (US4181 billion), Australia (US$164 billion), Germany (US$120 billion), Brazil (US$110 billion), and Malaysia (US$98 billion).
Other countries that make significant exports to China are Viet Nam, Russia, Indonesia, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Chile, France, Singapore, and Switzerland.
On the continent, South Africa leads top exporting African countries to China, having exported products worth around US$33 billion in 2021.
Other top exporters from Africa to China last year were Angola (US$21 billion), Democratic Republic of Congo (US$11,67 billion), Congo (US$4,67 billion), Zambia US$4,39 billion), and Libya (US$3,27 billion).
For Zimbabwe, although exports to China are still to reach the billion-dollar market, there is room to grow the presence of local products in China by focusing on areas the country enjoys competitive advantage.
This includes horticulture, and essential oils sectors.
Opportunities for Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe’s good climate favours production of top-quality producers that can perform well in the Chinese market.
For example, China is looking for Zimbabwe’s citrus products and has already signed a protocol to facilitate easy imports of locally-grown citrus fruits into the market.
The protocol will run for a five-year period and will see Zimbabwean farmers exporting fresh citrus varieties including sweet orange (Citrus sinensis), mandarin orange (Citrus reticulata), grapefruit (Citrus paradisi), lemon (Citrus limon and Citrus aurantifolia), sour orange (Citrus aurantium).
Zimbabwean exporters of citrus have mainly been exporting to South Africa and the European Union and the agreement with China will broaden export destinations for Zimbabwe citrus.
When one looks at China’s import structure of citrus fruits, the opportunities for Zimbabwean producers are huge.
2021 figures shows that China imported fresh and dried citrus fruits worth around US$532 million and the majority of it was grapefruit, mandarins including tangerines and satsumas, and wilkings and similar citrus hybrids.
South Africa is currently the top exporter of citrus fruits to China, accounting for US$210 million from the total import value by China, followed by Australia (US$86,7 million, Egypt (US$72,1 million), and United States of America (US$49,3 million).
Exhausting the current protocol on citrus will make it easy for Zimbabwe and China to enter into other agreements for fresh produce and fruits as the market presents several opportunities on the sector.
Other horticultural produce with potential includes berries, stone fruits, and nuts.
China has significantly grown its imports of fresh strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, back, white or red currants, and gooseberries over the last five years, from US$1,89 billion in 2017 to US$6,41 billion in 2021.
Imports of stone fruits has also gone up in China, from US$899 million in 2017 to US$2,25 billion in 2021, whilst imports of nuts such as macadamia, almonds, and hazelnuts grew from US$722 million to US$2,23 billion during the same period.
On the other hand, China grew its imports of fresh and dried dates, figs, pineapples, avocados, guavas, mangoes and mangosteens from US$424 million in 2017 to US$1,07 billion in 2021.
Fresh and dried bananas, including plantains also grew during the same period, from US$580 million to US$1,04 billion.
Further to horticulture, there are huge opportunities to supply essential oils to China.
According to Trade Map, the country has grown its imports of essential oils and resinoids; perfumery, cosmetic or toilet preparations from US$7,63 billion in 2017, to US$24,12 billion in 2021.
This growth has largely been anchored on imports of beauty or make-up preparations and preparations for the care of the skin, whose import value grew from US$5,8 billion in 2017 to US$20,3 billion in 2021.
The growth of essential oils imports in China provides opportunities for Zimbabwean exporters to increase essential oils exports which are currently minimal.
Essential oils used in aromatherapy such as rosemary, peppermint and sweet orange oils are some products that local farmers and businesses could consider for exporting to China.
With abundant natural resources such as indigenous fruits and spices, value addition is another way for local producers to earn more on the Chinese market.
Wild plants such as baobab, marula, moringa seeds, mongongo nuts provide excellent opportunities to tap into the essential oil market in China.