Africa-China: a partnership for sustainable development?
China has become a significant investor, trader and aid partner in East African countries such as Kenya, Mozambique and Tanzania. And with good reason – East Africa is rich in natural resources, including timber, and China’s fast growing economy needs it to import substantial volumes of natural products.
China is now the world’s largest consumer of forest products, and it imports more than 50% of Mozambique’s and Tanzania’s timber.
Weak governance in many developing countries means natural resources are being managed unsustainably, and are vulnerable to overuse. In Mozambique, for example, timber harvesting is at such a rate that the forests could be exhausted in five to ten years.
Poor governance often results in the unfair distribution of wealth. In some cases, foresters who have been harvesting logs all their lives are still living on less than $1 a day.
The lack of transparency in some countries’ export records also shows that trade is not always legal – for example, in 2004 China imported ten times more timber from Tanzania than was shown on export records.
The lack of accountability of consuming countries, such as China and some EU states, further contributes towards the unsustainable and illegal use of natural resources in East Africa.
That's why it's important that all importing and exporting countries take responsibility for transforming natural resource management in the region.
WWF in action
WWF’s partnership with the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) is supporting dialogue between Chinese and African officials on the sustainable and legal use of natural resources. We hope this will lead to legislation and to guidance for Chinese businesses and investors operating in Africa.
WWF will help partners in Africa and China improve their understanding of the impacts of trade in natural resources from Africa to China and the EU (another major trading partner); then we’ll work to ensure that such trade supports sustainable development.
We’ll also cooperate with governments, the private sector and communities in East Africa to develop trade and investments in natural resources that promote sustainable use and increased benefits for local people.
As part of WWF’s China for a Global Shift Initiative, our work with DFID will help Chinese banks and businesses to implement improved lending criteria and reporting for sustainable natural resource use. The initiative will also explore affordable low-carbon technology transfers to African countries.
On top of this, our Coastal East Africa Network Initiative, also supported by DFID, will work closely with governments and local people to help bring about the sustainable, legal and fair use of East Africa’s forests.