China, others shove US in scramble for Africa

Thu Aug 6, 2009 8:14am GMT

By Ed Cropley, African Investment Correspondent

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A presidential visit followed by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's African tour cannot conceal a stark reality: China has overtaken the United States as Africa's top trading partner.

That is one of the main problems facing Clinton on a seven-nation jaunt meant variously to spread Washington's good governance message and shore up relationships with its key oil suppliers on the continent.

U.S. officials are keen to trumpet a 28 percent jump in 2008 in trade with sub-Saharan Africa to $104 billion, even if the increase is attributable mainly to the high price of oil, which accounts for more than 80 percent of U.S. imports from Africa.

However, there is another statistic that says more about the direction of development on the poorest continent: this decade's tenfold increase in trade with China to $107 billion last year, narrowly eclipsing the United States.

The financial and then economic crisis that has pushed U.S. and European economies into recession and forced their companies to crimp overseas expansion is only likely to accelerate the trend, analysts say, despite the regional goodwill towards U.S. President Barack Obama, whose father was Kenyan.

"Obama has had some sort of effect, but that's waning pretty quickly," said Martyn Davies of Johannesburg-based regional investment consultancy Frontier Advisory.

"Reality is heading back in and the reality is that the crisis is accelerating the geo-economic shift of Africa towards Asia, centred largely around China," he said.


<p>A farm worker reaps tobacco leaves on a farm on the outskirts of the capital Harare in Zimbabwe, February 21, 2006. REUTERS/Howard Burditt</p>
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