Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

African Traders in Yiwu: Their Trade Networks and Their Role in the Distribution of 'Made in China' Products in Africa

Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

African Traders in Yiwu: Their Trade Networks and Their Role in the Distribution of 'Made in China' Products in Africa

Article excerpt


African transnational trade networks have expanded around the world, with Africa, Europe and the United States serving as the traditional immigration destinations for many Africans. From their home countries in Africa, African traders have established business relations with their family members already settled in those regions. But while the world economy, including industrialisation and entrepreneurship, is shifting to Asia, business interests among Africans are also following in that direction. With globalisation, delocalisation and market liberalisation, new industrial and trade hubs have developed in the Asian cities of Hong Kong, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and so on, enabling both manufacturing and sales. These changes in Asia have mobilized African traders in Africa, Europe and the United States to begin sourcing their supplies from those cities, either by directly traveling there or using their networks.

Even though Asia has served as a new trade destination for Africans who travel to or settle in Thailand, Malaysia, Dubai, Hong Kong and so on for business opportunities, the 1997 financial crisis which hit Southeast Asia pushed them to relocate to other countries which could offer better trade deals. Therefore, China, with its industrial boom and the development of its manufacturing bases in Guangdong (which is adjacent to Hong Kong), has caught the attention of many African traders. Many African traders have moved to China to continue their trade between Africa and Asia (Bertoncello and Bredeloup, 2009; Bodomo, 2009a,b).

The abundant manpower and the low cost of production and labour have contributed to offering competitive prices for 'made in China' consumer goods. This has enticed African traders to establish businesses in Guangzhou by opening up trading agencies and facilitating business opportunities between Africa and China and Africans and Chinese. Their presence in Guangzhou has attracted many Africans seeking trade opportunities to China, who then develop or expand their trade networks. Over the years, Guangzhou has noticed the growing arrival of Africans and the city has caught the attention of academics, media experts and Chinese citizens. China has thus become the new 'locus' of the African diaspora. While trade ties have existed between African countries, Europe and the United States for a considerable length of time, today new trade networks have developed between Africa and China and expanded in Chinese and African cities due to growing economic relations between China and African countries. China's modernisation and openness to becoming an economic immigration destination have helped hasten this process.

A number of research articles and media coverage (Li Zhigang et al., 2007; Fowale, 2008; Le Bail, 2009; Bodomo, 2010; Bredeloup, 2012) have been conducted on Africans in Guangzhou where the largest African population in China lives.

However, Yiwu, in eastern China, has become a new destination for African traders due to comprehensive policy reforms by the local officials to transform the city into an international trading hub (Lin Yue, 2006; Bodomo and Ma Enyu, 2010; Cissé, 2013). With production bases around the city, district markets established to enable trade activities within and outside of China and a host of facilities (Customs office, international logistics centre, port, international airport and so on) implemented, Yiwu has attracted traders from all over the world, not least of all African traders. The presence of African traders in the 'world's largest commodities city' has connected African trade networks around the world. Even though they have trade connections with their home countries while in China, some of the African traders in Yiwu also have trade ties with other African trade networks in Africa, Europe, the United States and Asia.

Compared to many African transnational trade networks which were based on ethnicity, country of origin, religious brotherhood and so on, more and more business ties determine the characteristics of business networks among African traders. …

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