As Chinese and African leaders plan to meet in Dakar, Senegal, at the end of the month for the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) the continent is eyeing better trade deals with the Asian economic giant. On Thursday, the Senegalese foreign affairs minister Aissata Tall Sall met ambassadors of the African Group in Dakar to prepare for the 8th FOCAC meeting, which will convene for two days from November 29. The minister said China and Africa would adopt a so-called Dakar declaration and a Dakar 2022-24 Action Plan. A document on the “2035 Vision for China-Africa Cooperation and Climate Change ” would be adopted by Africa and China at the event. Thursday’s meeting in Senegal was also attended by China’s ambassador in Dakar, Xiao Han. The Chinese ambassador said, “with less than a month to go before the forum opens, the Chinese side is ready to roll up their sleeves to work hard with the African side to cover the home stretch”. Xiao said holding the FOCAC meeting in a pandemic reflected “the mutual trust and support between the largest developing country and the continent with the greater number of developing countries”. FOCAC, a triennial high-level forum between China and African countries, comes with many expectations from African nations as they seek access to Covid-19 vaccines , want to grow exports to China and secure debt relief and funding for the continent’s infrastructure. China and African nations celebrate 20 years of trade relations In the past two decades the event, the biggest gathering of African and Chinese officials, has seen Chinese leaders pledge billions of dollars for Africa’s infrastructure, especially under China’s transcontinental Belt and Road Initiative . At each of the meetings in South Africa in 2015 and Beijing in 2018 China committed a massive US$60 billion. Traditionally during FOCAC, China pledges billions to fund Africa’s railways, ports, roads and power plants, but with worsening levels of debt in Africa and growing criticism that some projects are “white elephants”, Chinese lenders are cautious and demanding bankable feasibility studies amid debt distress in the continent. Besides seeking more money for Africa’s projects, African countries would be pushing to grow exports of African agricultural products into China. On Monday, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni told Bloomberg China needed to provide tariff-free, quota-free access such as that allowed by AGOA (African Growth and Opportunity Act), a pact introduced in 2000 by the US allowing duty-free access to the US market on most exports from Sub-Saharan Africa. “What I will ask from them is to allow our products to enter their market tax-free. They had allowed a few but many are not allowed,” Museveni said. “We would like a broader spectrum of access to the market without tax and quantitative limit.” China, Africa and the 3 years since Xi promised to rebalance trade China sources a substantial amount of raw materials such as oil, cobalt and copper, and also buys agricultural products such as chilli, cashews, sesame seeds and spices from Africa. China-Africa trade reached US$208.7 billion in 2019, with Beijing importing African goods worth US$95.5 billion, dominated by crude oil, base metals and precious stones. In exchange, African countries bought goods worth US$113.2 billion in the same year, mostly machinery, transport equipment, electronics and textiles. Tanzania last year began to export soybeans to China, as Beijing sought to cut its reliance on the US and Brazil. Similar deals have been struck for Kenyan avocados, tea, coffee and roses, Ethiopian coffee and soybeans, beef products from Namibia and Botswana, fruit from South Africa and Rwandan coffee. But China has promised that Beijing will come up with incentives to increase imports of African agricultural products into China. Wu Peng, director general of the Chinese foreign ministry’s African affairs department, announced that this year’s FOCAC would carry the theme: “Deepen China-Africa partnership and promote sustainable development to build a China-Africa community with a shared future in the new era”. “It will be a gathering of China and African members of FOCAC to draw up the blueprint of co-op in the next three and more years,” Wu said. He recently promised that Beijing was finding ways to expedite exports of agricultural products from the continent to China, with details expected to be unveiled during the Dakar meeting. Liu Yuxi, China’s head of mission to the African Union, said last month that in the 21 years since the establishment of FOCAC, trade between China and Africa as well as China’s investment in Africa had expanded 20-fold and 100-fold respectively. He said China had built more than 6,000km (3,700 miles) of railway line, 6,000km of roads, nearly 20 ports and more than 80 large power-generation facilities in Africa. “Even with the pandemic, China has remained Africa’s largest trading partner for 12 consecutive years. Direct Chinese investment in Africa has been steady, reaching US$3 billion in 2020 alone. Many Chinese engineers and technicians chose to stay at their posts in Africa despite the pandemic, and over 1,100 cooperation projects have maintained operation,” Liu said. He said, until now, over 85 per cent of the eight major initiatives announced at the 2018 Beijing FOCAC Summit had been implemented and 70 per cent of the US$60 billion supporting funds had been disbursed or earmarked. Chris Alden, an international relations professor at the London School of Economics, said in a recent report that the onset of Covid-19 and Chinese responses to it – characterised as “vaccine diplomacy” – had boosted China’s image in an Africa seemingly abandoned by the West. Alden said the retooling of China’s special economic zones based in Africa to focus on domestic African markets, as well as the encouragement of agro-industrial processing, should feature in this potentially decisive phase of the continent’s development. Will African risks pay off for China or buyer’s remorse beat soft power? Analysts also say China is likely to announce deals under the digital Silk Road . Mzukisi Qobo, an associate professor and head of school at the Wits School of Governance, University of the Witwatersrand, said in a recent report by the London School of Economics that “China will seek to advance its digital Silk Road agenda in Africa as part of its competition with the US for global tech supremacy. It will aim to draw Africa to its digital orbit on the back of technology cooperation and possibly development assistance that is tied to the use of Chinese technology”.