Charted: Top Destinations for Africa’s Exports (1995-2020)
Just under 30 years ago, exports originating from countries in Africa sat at $106 billion annually, primarily going to nations in the West. By 2020, Africa’s exports had more than tripled, but now with Asia as the primary destination.
The world’s second-largest continent, much of the value of Africa’s exports are concentrated in natural resources like petroleum, gold, diamonds, natural gas, and coal. Agricultural commodities like tea, coffee, and cotton also find large markets overseas.
Which countries are the top destinations for Africa’s exports?
This graphic from Sebastian Gräff uses data from Harvard University’s Atlas of Economic Complexity, the World Bank, and Bloomberg to track total exports from African countries over the years. Countries receiving a 1% or greater share of total exports have been included, and percentages have been rounded.
Tracking Africa’s Exports Between 1995 and 2005
The U.S. was the top destination for African goods for many years, led by the country’s demand for petroleum products. At its peak in 2005, the U.S. received one-fifth of the continent’s exports, valued at $55 billion.
Here’s a look at all the countries that had a 1% or greater share of Africa’s total export value at some point from 1995 to 2005.
|🇺🇸 U.S.||North America||14%||18%||20%|
|🇰🇷 South Korea||Asia||2%||2%||1%|
|🇧🇷 Brazil||South America||1%||2%||2%|
|🇨🇦 Canada||North America||1%||1%||2%|
|🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||Asia||1%||1%||1%|
|🇿🇦 South Africa||Africa||1%||0%||1%|
|🇨🇮 Côte d'Ivoire||Africa||1%||1%||1%|
|🇭🇰 Hong Kong||Asia||1%||0%||0%|
Western European countries—Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Belgium and the UK—also accounted for a significant share of Africa’s exports throughout this time period. Part of this was due to century-old relationships and colonial legacies, but trade was also encouraged by initiatives like the 1976 Lomé Convention, which gave products from developing African countries (particularly former colonies) duty-free access to European markets in exchange for developmental aid.
During the mid-2000s, China also started to take up a growing share of the continent’s exports, as its rapid industrialization led to skyrocketing demand for commodities such as oil, iron ore, and copper—all key African exports.
Asia’s Growing Export Share Between 2010 and 2020
By the year 2010, as African exports topped the $481 billion per year mark, the global market was rapidly starting to change.
For starters, thanks to a considerable increase in domestic oil and natural gas production, the United States began cutting back on African petroleum imports.
At the same time, China had been actively seeking resources and investment opportunities in the developing world as part of its greater geopolitical strategy. By 2015, it had surpassed the U.S. as Africa’s primary export destination, marking a shift in the continent’s trade dynamics.
Here’s a look at all the countries with a 1% or greater share of Africa’s total export value from 2010 to 2020.
|🇺🇸 U.S.||North America||15%||5%||5%|
|🇿🇦 South Africa||Africa||2%||2%||2%|
|🇧🇷 Brazil||South America||2%||2%||1%|
|🇨🇦 Canada||North America||2%||1%||1%|
|🇰🇷 South Korea||Asia||1%||1%||1%|
|🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||Asia||1%||1%||1%|
|🇨🇮 Côte d'Ivoire||Africa||1%||1%||0%|
|🇭🇰 Hong Kong||Asia||0%||1%||1%|
China was joined in the top three ranks by India and the UAE, who were also experiencing rapid industrialization and growing demand for African commodities. In 2020, nearly 40% of Africa’s exports found a market in Asia, led by China and India’s significant trade volumes.
In comparison, Western Europe had started relinquish both its share and value of African goods imported. Alongside growing demand from developing countries, there became greater diversification in African export markets, with countries from Asia (Malaysia, Pakistan), Eastern Europe (Poland, Russia), and within Africa (the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda), accounting for growing shares of African exports.
The Future of the African Export Market
Though Africa’s largest export markets are outside the continent for now, there is vast untapped potential for inter-regional exports, which stood at only 15% of total export value in 2020.
There is movement to expand on this trade, with the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) established in 2018 to reduce trade barriers between African countries. According to UN estimates, it has the potential to create a $3 trillion market within the continent alone.
With one of the fastest-growing regional populations, the African continent’s economic stakes have never been higher. So who will end up dominating Africa’s trade landscape in the decades to come?
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When Will the Global Population Reach Its Peak?
Population projections from the UN suggest that there will be over 10 billion people by 2060, though other organizations disagree.
Comparing Global Population Projections to 2100
When will the world reach its peak population?
According to data from the United Nations’ 2022 Revision of its World Population Prospects, we could see a peak of over 10.4 billion people sometime in the late 2080s.
While the UN’s projections are the most widely used, this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the most accurate. Several alternative models have predicted an earlier and lower peak, suggesting that the world’s population could decline sooner than expected.
In the UN’s latest revisions, it lowered its own estimates for global population in 2100, from 10.9 billion (as of 2019) to 10.4 billion (as of 2022).
In this graphic, we’ve visualized population projections to 2100 from three organizations: the UN, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA).
Data and Highlights
The population projection data we used to create this graphic is listed in the table below. Note that UN projections are as of 2022, IHME are as of 2020, and IIASA are as of 2014.
From this data we can see that the UN expects the world to hit peak population in 2086, as well as maintain above 10 billion people in 2100.
On the other hand, neither the IHME nor IIASA models expect global population to reach 10 billion, instead forecasting a peak of 9.7 billion in the 2060s (IHME) or 9.4 billion in 2070 (IIASA). Both models also predict population to fall back to the 8 billion range by 2100.
The differential at 2100 is substantial, with IHME’s forecast lower than the UN’s by 1.6 billion people, for example.
What Is the IHME and IIASA, and Why Do They Differ?
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) is a Seattle-based research institute founded in 2007 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Its mission is to “deliver to the world timely, relevant, and scientifically valid evidence to improve health policy and practice.”
The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), on the other hand, is an international research institute based in Austria, dating back to 1972. It was established to improve scientific cooperation between the Soviet Union and the U.S., and today has members in over 20 countries.
To understand why the IHME and IIASA models differ from the UN’s, let’s look at each organization’s projections for fertility rate, which is measured as the number of children per woman.
Based on this chart, the IHME and IIASA expect global fertility rates to fall at a quicker rate pre-2050, then stabilize as we approach 2100. This contrasts with the UN’s projections, which expect fertility to decrease at a slower, steadier rate all the way to 2100.
Generally speaking, a country’s birth rate declines as it becomes more developed. This is due to many factors like higher education rates for women (and thus more women in the workforce), greater access to contraceptives and family planning, as well as higher childbearing costs.
How Fast Will Fertility Rates Fall in Africa?
Sub-Saharan Africa has one of the highest fertility rates in the world, but this is quickly falling as the region experiences rapid economic growth.. For instance, GDP per capita in Sub-Saharan Africa has climbed from $632 in 2000, to $1,690 in 2022.
Because of this economic transformation, some researchers believe that Africa will undergo a fast demographic transition similar to East Asia, in which population growth falls off sharply. For instance, a UNICEF survey from 2021 found that fertility rates in Nigeria had fallen from 5.8 to 4.6 (a 17% decrease) in just five years time.
Now going back to the question at hand, let’s see how the UN and IHME’s fertility rate projections for Sub-Saharan Africa differ.
These differences may seem small, but even a few decimal places can have a huge impact. For example, let’s revisit the UN’s population projection for the year 2100, which was 10.4 billion people.
Under the UN’s low fertility scenario (birth rates remain 0.5 lower), population in 2100 would be a significantly smaller 7.0 billion. Meanwhile, under the high fertility scenario (birth rates remain 0.5 higher), population would balloon to 14.7 billion.
As a result, how birth rates change in high fertility regions like Sub-Saharan Africa will have a significant influence on when the global population will reach its peak.
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