Monday, September 3, 2018

China's FOCAC Financial Package for Africa 2018: Four Facts

We finally have the long-awaited 2018 Chinese financial pledges in support of FOCAC (Forum on China-Africa cooperation). Although Chinese president Xi Jinping spun the numbers to come to $60 billion (the same as the 2015 pledges in Johannesburg), the Chinese state only seems to be putting $50 billion of its own money at stake, while encouraging Chinese companies to contribute the rest through their own investment projects.
China pledged:

  • US$20 billion in new credit lines
  • US$15 billion in foreign aid: grants, interest-free loans and concessional loans. 
  • US$10 billion for a special fund for development financing  
  • US$5 billion for a special fund for financing imports from Africa.
(These two latter funds are unlikely to be loan-based but details have yet to be released.)

Here is my quick analysis in "four facts".

1. The total Chinese pledge of grants and loans (including commercial rate loans and export credits) has declined from $40 billion in 2015 to $35 billion in 2018

The first pledge of Chinese interest-bearing loans was in 2009 (US$5 billion). In 2009, the loan pledge doubled to US$10 billion, and in 2012 it was US$20 billion. At Johannesburg in 2012, the Chinese pledged a full US$35 billion in interest-bearing loans of various kinds, and another $5 billion in grants and interest-free loans ($40 billion in total). Now at this Beijing summit, we are back down to $20 billion in what look to be more commercial credit lines and export credits, while the concessional loans have been folded into the rest of the foreign aid instruments: the $15 billion.

2. Which makes this is a more concessional package than that offered in 2015. Why? Because China's foreign aid pledge (grants, interest-free loans, and concessional loans) has jumped to $15 billion. This means that China is providing official, concessional assistance to Africa of $5 billion per year, the highest level ever. These resources are likely all to be administered by China's new International Cooperation and Development Agency.

3. China still doesn't challenge the US position as Africa's largest donor. The US disbursed $12 billion just to Sub-Saharan Africa in 2017, and $250 million to North Africa (Chinese figures include both as "Africa". (This could change under the Trump administration's budget cuts.)

4. Debt relief policies have not changed but a lot of Africans won't realize this. Debt relief is (as always) limited to interest-free Chinese government loans maturing at the end of the year. These foreign aid loans are a long-standing and relatively modest part of Chinese finance in Africa.

Since 2006, African overdue interest-free loans from China have been regularly cancelled -- but not everywhere. These are a relatively small part of Chinese lending. In 2018 these debt relief programs are again, as usual, limited to the "least developed countries, heavily indebted and poor countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing countries that have diplomatic relations with China."