Chinese trade and investment and its impacts on forests: A scoping study in the miombo woodlands

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China's diplomatic and economic presence in Africa has grown considerably in recent years. From the establishment of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) and efforts to strengthen diplomatic, cultural and economic relations with African nations, to the rapid growth in Chinese foreign direct investment (FDI) and bilateral trade, this relationship is likely to continue to play a defining role in African economies. These trends are important for African nations that see this relationship as an opportunity to catalyse much-needed investments in infrastructure and industry, to stimulate job creation and exports, and to counter-balance the historical influence of western nations. Yet a perceived lack of transparency in Sino-African diplomacy (and related lending conditionalities) and lesser concern for social and environmental impacts among Chinese investors has raised concerns about the potential risks of this emerging partnership. In the absence of strong evidence on the uniqueness of Chinese diplomatic and economic relations in specific countries in the region and related impacts, it is impossible to assess the opportunities and risks posed by China's growing influence in the region. This report, and the wider project in which it is embedded, aims to shed light on this debate by examining the Chinese influence on the forestry sector in Congo Basin and Miombo woodland countries. Through a comparative analysis of patterns of aid, trade and investment with Chinese and other ‘development partners', and their social, economic and environmental implications for key sectors shaping African forests (agriculture, forestry, mining), the project aims to explore the nuances behind the emerging Sino-African partnership. Towards this end, this report explores the diplomatic and economic relations between China and three miombo woodland countries (Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe). Emphasis is placed on the identification of key patterns of Sino-African trade and investment in sectors of interest, as a means of identifying trends of importance to forests and exploring key themes for more in-depth research. Initial findings suggest that while Chinese aid, trade and investment are playing a significant and often defining role in the sectors of interest, the level and mode of influence - and anticipated impacts on forests - vary considerably across countries and sectors. The report also highlights the trade-offs that often accompany the activities of state and non-state, small- and large-scale operators alike.

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