Africa’s commodity exporters are bracing for an economic blow as China, its biggest trading partner, struggles to contain a coronavirus outbreak that, as of Wednesday, had killed nearly 500 people, analysts said. Chinese demand underpins the economies of various resource-rich countries on the continent, with a slowdown in China rippling out to partners such as Angola, Zambia, Congo Brazzaville and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). “The longer the virus holds down Chinese growth , the worse for Africa’s commodity exporters from Zambia [copper] to Angola [oil],” said Charles Robertson, Moscow-based investment bank Renaissance Capital’s global chief economist and an emerging markets analyst. However, he said that once the virus was brought under control, “we expect a China stimulus that would lift commodities and the countries that have suffered”. China has been Africa’s largest trading partner since it overtook the United States in 2009. Africa’s importance to Beijing is demonstrated each year by a high-level diplomatic tour, which last month involved Foreign Minister Wang Yi. A decade after China replaced the US, trade between it and Africa was worth US$208.7 billion. However, Chinese government figures showed year-on-year growth in trade in 2019 slowed to 2.2 per cent compared to 2018, when it rose by 19.7 per cent. Africa quarantines symptomatic passengers from China; no cases confirmed African ties have been strengthen by Beijing’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative , the trade and infrastructure development plan which has funded the construction of motorways, hydropower plants and railways across the continent. Some African nations also earn considerable income from tourism, and travel restrictions during the virus outbreak could mean fewer Chinese leisure and business travellers. Many countries have imposed travel restrictions on China, while six out of eight African airlines that serve Chinese destinations –Egypt Air, Royal Air Maroc, Air Mauritius, Air Madagascar, Kenya Airways and RwandAir – have suspended flights. Ethiopian Airlines – the African carrier with the most flights to China – and Air Algérie continue to operate China routes as usual. Given the Ethiopian capital’s status as a transport centre, it was probably the African city that was most at risk of coronavirus, said John Ashbourne, an emerging markets economist at Capital Economics, a London-based consultancy. Robertson said that if the virus continued to spread and hit tourism for a year or more, then Egypt – where tourism remained strong outside the peak July-August period – would be likely to suffer currency weakness. China’s trade with Africa grows 2.2 per cent in 2019 to US$208 billion Should Chinese tourist numbers fall, the biggest casualty outside of Africa could be Thailand. Vietnam could be affected, but not as significantly as Thailand, Robertson said. Analysts also said sellers of soft commodities such as tea, cocoa, rose flowers and coffee could suffer if Chinese demand remained subdued. This could affect Kenya, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Rwanda. Others said it would be hard to estimate the possible economic effect of the virus on African economies. Ashbourne said that the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak in 2002-03 had no meaningful effect in Africa, “So we don’t have a recent comparison to base our estimates on.” “[Guessing] was difficult because a paucity of transport connections means that the region was spared the effect of previous outbreaks,” he said. “Weak domestic health systems, however, would make it difficult for a large-scale outbreak to be successfully contained.” Based on flight data, East Africa seemed more exposed to the new virus than other parts of the continent, Ashbourne said, adding that, “I would be most worried about Ethiopia”. Macron urges Trump not to leave Africa as US weighs troop reduction Shortly after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency, it identified 13 of Africa’s 54 countries as high-risk: Algeria, Angola, Ivory Coast, the DRC, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, which either have direct links with or a high volume of travel to China. While the WHO – which reported 22,000 cases of the coronavirus worldwide as of Tuesday – was supporting countries to investigate alerts, there were no confirmed cases in Africa as of Wednesday. “Active screening at airports has been established in a majority of these countries, and while they will be the WHO’s first areas of focus, the organisation will support all countries in the region in their preparation efforts,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director for Africa. 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