Responding to Chinese Influence in Africa
Unease over the rise of China’s influence in Africa has been one of the few issues that both Democrats and Republicans agree upon. An authoritarian country that frequently engages in human rights violations becoming more influential on the global stage is cause for unanimous concern. But what can we do about it?
In order to slay the Chinese dragon’s influence, African countries must view America as vital economic partners. The more important the United States becomes in the eyes of African leaders, the more incentives African states have to shun the Chinese and build strategic partnerships with the United States. Fortunately, an interesting opportunity has presented itself that could be potentially game-changing for U.S.-Africa relations: The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
The AfCFTA was formally implemented in 2018 and represents the largest free trade area in the world, with 54 signatories. African development has been hamstrung by trade barriers since the colonial era, and this revolutionary agreement aims to reduce 97 per cent of tariffs on goods traded between member states over the first 13 years of the agreement. If successfully implemented, the AfCFTA is projected to have widespread benefits for the African people. The World Bank argues that the free trade area would, by 2035, lift 30 million people out of abject poverty, increase wages by 10 per cent, and boost regional income by more than $450 billion.
How the United States responds to the implementation of the AfCFTA is critically important. The United States needs to leverage this opportunity to strengthen U.S.-Africa relations while simultaneously isolating the Chinese.
Currently, U.S.-Africa trade relations are governed by the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). The AGOA provides eligible sub-Saharan African countries duty-free access to the American market for thousands of products, and many African producers have benefitted as a result. With the AGOA set to expire in 2025, America can, and should, expand the legislation to deepen economic relations between the United States and Africa. American policymakers must recognise that when the AGOA was created in 2000, we were not competing with China for influence in the region. Since 2013, Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative has poured billions of dollars into Africa in order to undermine America’s geopolitical interests. The geopolitical landscape has changed, and America must respond appropriately.
First, if the AGOA is kept or expanded, the United States needs to require participating countries to create and publish “utilisation strategies.” These strategies are prepared by the beneficiary country and detail how that specific country’s comparative advantage can be harnessed to take advantage of the preferential access they are receiving in the American market. While the AGOA has had a largely positive impact, it remains underutilised by many African states, and these utilisation strategies can help countries recognise that trade under the AGOA will spur development.
Second, the United States needs to make sure that a substantial amount of the foreign assistance it is giving to African countries is geared toward facilitating trade between Africa and the United States instead of foreign assistance being primarily a unilateral transfer of money to African governments. Strengthening the private sector is crucial for sustaining economic growth, and by connecting foreign assistance to trade facilitation, the private sector should be able to take advantage of the AGOA more easily and use the American consumer market to develop.
America can push back the Chinese dragon in Africa. But doing so will require a coordinated approach to deepen our economic ties with the African continent. The AfCFTA will be key in Africa’s development, and how the United States chooses to engage with Africa as this new free trade area comes into effect will influence whether it is able to remain the most prominent player on the global stage. The first concrete step should be expanding the AGOA so that African countries reap more benefits from tr
ading with the United States.
This article first appeared in 1828.