Russia, Africa and Trade Statistics

On Nov 19, when officials from the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of legislators, interacted with African diplomats during a preparatory meeting towards holding Russia-Africa Interparliamentary Conference in 2019, Viacheslav Volodin, Chairman of the State Duma, assertively pointed to the growing business aspects of Russia’s relations with African countries.

While expressing satisfaction, he particularly underscored the fact that trade turnover increased by more than a quarter compared to 2016 and amounted to about 26.1% or US$17.4 billion.

In July, while attending the BRICS summit in Johannesburg, President Vladimir Putin held a special meeting with participating delegations invited from African states. Among important economic issues, he acknowledged Africa as one of the world’s most rapidly developing regions. The domestic African market and consumer demand are expanding, he noted.

Putin explicitly pointed to Russia’s trade with African states that grew by more than 25 percent in 2017. Food supplies increased by 38 percent, metals – by 30, machinery and equipment – by 24 percent, and added that Russian businesses are interested in working with African partners in a variety of areas including industry, agriculture, healthcare, communications, geology and mining.

Efforts are continuously taken to improve trade globally, and that includes Africa.

On Nov 16, Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov chaired the MFA’s Business Council.

“We must certainly continue our energetic efforts to further build on the geographical diversification of Russia’s foreign economic relations, primarily through the deepening of cooperation with other Asian countries and Africa,” according to Lavrov.

“It is important to work creatively and take the initiative to concentrate resources in breakthrough projects and, importantly, to increase information support for our activities.”

While Russians keep in mind that competition in foreign markets continues increasing, they have acknowledged that Russian manufactured products are highly valued in Africa and Asia. There is a growing demand for Russian engineering products abroad, according to the Business Council.

The MFA Business Council dreams of ensuring effective political and diplomatic support for Russian companies abroad and bolstering Russian business positions in foreign markets.

In an interview with the Hommes d’Afrique magazine on March 5, 2018, Sergey Lavrov admitted that Russia’s economic cooperation is not as far advanced as political ties. He also indicated that “equally important is African businesspeople who are looking to work on the Russian market.”

Particularly interesting when he said: “our African friends note the need for Russia’s active presence in the region, and more frequently express their interest in holding a Russia-Africa summit.”

He further informed that Russia’s trade with Africa has improved over the past few years. “Our trade with Sub-Saharan countries amounted to US$3.6 billion in 2017, compared to US$3.3 billion in 2016 and US$2.2 billion in 2015,” Lavrov told Hommes d’Afrique.

Research sources give different statistics. Over the past decade, Russian trade with sub-Saharan Africa has increased fast, albeit from a low base. From 2010-2017, total trade rose to US$4.2 billion a year from US$1.6 billion, according to the Center for Strategic & International Studies.

Sharing the same sentiments about trade, Maxim Chereshnev, the Chairman of the Board of the Council for the Development of Foreign Trade and International Economic Relations also noted that Russia and African states have a long story of relations. But, what is very important today is the fact that new opportunities are arising for medium size enterprises for collaboration in Russia and Africa.

According to Chereshnev, nowadays perspectives of business contacts between Russian and African business are actually underestimated, however, there are a huge number of opportunities. For instance, in agriculture, high-tech, medicine, energy-saving technologies, logistics and infrastructure projects are really perspectives for raising trade levels and strengthening overall economic cooperation between Russia and Africa.

Last but not the least, Professors Aleksey Vasiliev and Evgeny Korendyasov, both from the Institute of African Studies (IAS) under the Russian Academy of Sciences, believe that the situation in Russia-African foreign trade will considerably change for the better if Russian industry undergoes technological modernization, the state provides Russian businessmen systematic and meaningful support, small and medium businesses receive wider access to foreign economic cooperation with Africa.

Kester Kenn Klomegah
Kester Kenn Klomegah
MD Africa Editor Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.