Center for International Forestry Research

Montée Parc Wood Market, Yaoundé, Cameroon (Photo by Ollivier Girard/CIFOR)

Emerging trade, emerging trends: Examining China’s engagement with Africa

The growing relationships between China and Africa in business, investment, aid and trade have attracted global attention. Now, CIFOR research is looking at the implications of these connections on natural resource management in the forested areas of the African continent.

Much attention has been paid to China’s growing role in Africa, especially by the international press, but to date very little scientific work has been done on the actual social and ecological impacts.

Louis Putzel
CIFOR Senior Scientist

The ‘Chinese trade and investment in Africa: Assessing and governing trade-offs to national economies, local livelihoods and forest ecosystems’ project is implemented by CIFOR with support from the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development.

“The purpose of the project is to understand how Chinese models of international investment and development assistance differ from others, specially in how they might affect access to land and resources from forest areas,” said Louis Putzel, the CIFOR Senior Scientist who heads the project.

One of the first outputs of the project has cast light on discrepancies between official timber export figures from Mozambique and China’s import data.

Mozambican export figures from 2010 showed almost US$ 49 million worth of timber shipped to China, while Chinese figures showed that more than US$ 134 million had landed from Mozambique, a difference of $85.4 million.

Wood not recorded by customs is probably not taxed and the Mozambican government could therefore be losing revenue. But this is only one part of the problem.

“Tracking timber is a minimum requirement if forestry officials are going to try to monitor logging and its effects at the national level,” Putzel said. “Of course that does not guarantee sustainable management of forests, but without it, the role of the government is limited.”

There has been some work done on China’s side, for example, including the drafting of overseas logging guidelines by the State Forestry Administration and the Ministry of Commerce. However, despite efforts to promote these guidelines, they remain difficult to enforce.

The timber trade is not the only area where Chinese investment has an impact on forests. Scoping studies found that the involvement of Chinese companies in small-scale and artisanal mining activities in the Democratic Republic of Congo is a potentially significant source of deforestation and forest degradation, particularly in areas attracting migrant diggers.

The China-Africa project is the first of CIFOR’s work looking at the global economic shifts as emerging economies engage with new markets for  trade.

“There is still a lot of work to be done,” said CIFOR Senior Scientist Pablo Pacheco. “In the near future, CIFOR will expand on its work beyond China and Africa to look at the impact of other emerging economies in tropical forest countries.”