Commodities are important for Africa, accounting for more than 80 per cent of exports in 35 of the continent’s 48 nations. Economic growth has thus been closely correlated to resources prices and the post-millennium commodity ‘super-cycle’ strongly boosted many countries.
Yet in aggregate, Africa’s role in most commodity markets is modest. Its exports of major commodities mostly comprise less than 10 per cent – often below 5 per cent – of global trade flows. Only Algeria, Angola, Cote D’Ivoire, Egypt, Ghana, Libya, Nigeria and South Africa have commodity exports exceeding USD10 billion a year, so sufficient to affect global markets.
However, production of most commodities is concentrated among a handful of countries, making those nations, especially South Africa, important in specific markets.
Many African economies are highly exposed to just one or two resources. Indeed, for 30 of the 48 nations, a single commodity accounts for over 40 per cent of their exports.
Petroleum is the dominant product in Angola, Chad, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Libya, Nigeria and Sudan. But while half of OPEC’s 14 members are African, they accounted for only 18 per cent of OPEC production and around 13 per cent of global crude-oil trade in 2017.
South Africa has the world’s largest proven gold reserves outside Australia and is the third biggest exporter of iron ore, although its 5 per cent share lags far behind Australia’s 50 per cent and Brazil’s 25 per cent. South Africa and Mozambique are behind only Australia and Indonesia in exporting coal to India, supplying 27 per cent of its coal imports.
And South African platinum accounts for two-thirds of world output. The country has around 90 per cent of global reserves of the platinum-group metals used in catalytic converters to reduce petrol-engine emissions.
Car makers also require cobalt for batteries and the Democratic Republic of the Congo accounts for two-thirds of global output and half the world’s reserves. Almost all its exports go to China but high prices are incentivising manufacturers to develop batteries that use less cobalt, or alternatives.
For South Africa, mining accounts for 40 per cent of total exports, 7.5 per cent of GDP and 4.5 per cent of formal employment. But while it dominated global gold production in the last century, output has declined as ever-deeper mines become less productive.
Gold still accounts for 1 per cent of South African GDP and 6 per cent of exports, but platinum, coal, and iron ore are now important with manganese and chromium production rising as prices increase.
Ghana overtook South Africa as the region’s biggest gold supplier in 2018 and the IMF expects it to be Africa’s fastest growing economy this year after expansion of 8 per cent in 2017 and 6 per cent last year. Ghana’s oil industry grew from almost nothing in 2010 to 160,000 barrels a day in 2017 and is forecast to reach 500,000 by 2024, potentially attracting foreign investment.
Gold and oil exports now comprise Ghana’s biggest export earnings with most oil sales going to China.
By contrast, agriculture is the mainstay of Kenya’s economy, accounting for 30 per cent of GDP and over two-thirds of jobs, largely in tea, coffee and horticulture. However, the discovery in 2014 of oil reserves estimated at 600 million barrels could see production starting within five years.
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