Is China “crowding out” South African exports of manufacturers

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University of Cape Town


This paper analyses the impact of Chinese competition on South African manufacturing exports to its major markets in Europe, the USA and Sub-Saharan Africa. The paper considers four related research questions. First, are China and South Africa competing with each other in export markets, how extensive is such competition and how is this changing over time? Second, to what extent has Chinese competition led to the displacement of South African exports in its major markets? Third, in which countries have South African exports been most affected? Finally, which South African export sectors face the greatest threat from Chinese competition? We find that competition between South Africa and China has increased significantly over the past decade, particularly in African markets. This has been a result of growth of Chinese exports both at the intensive and the extensive margins, with the number of products which they export in common increasing, as well as China increasing its share of the import market for products which it already exported at the start of the period. All types of manufactured exports lost ground to China, but the impact is strongest in low technology products. South African exports have nevertheless increased from 2001. The “crowding out” that has been described in the paper is therefore a relative story and not one of absolute declines in South African exports. The “crowding out” also only refers to manufacturing and not to primary products where Chinese economic growth and demand for resources has enhanced South African exports to third countries through rising commodity prices.

This paper is based on research carried out for project on “Chinese Competition and the Restructuring of South African Manufacturing” funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council, Grant No. ES/1035125/1. The project was administered by the Southern African Labour and Development Research Unit at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, and the School of International Development at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom. The paper benefited from extensive comments by participants of a workshop organized by the Trade and Industrial Policy Strategies in Pretoria.