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The imbalanced trade partnership between Zambia and India in favor of the Asian nation.

By Edward Chisanga

As our new government reanimates trade partnership with longstanding friends like India, under vigorous and undeniably fitting slogan, “Value addition,” it would be rewarding to look at statistics that drive such relationship in comparison with public statements made. I use UNCTADstat data to analyze the pattern of exports of primary commodities on the one hand, and manufactured goods on the other, between the two over the period of close to three decades, 1995-2021.

First, I show that according to Unctadstat, India’s world exports of manufactured goods totaling $242 billion in 2021 is quite high and not far from Africa’s world total exports of all products amounting to $380 billion shown in Table 1 below. In other words, India’s journey towards export value addition in comparison with Africa is exceedingly successful. Africa’s exports of manufactured goods of only $31 billion is a speckle.

Table 1: India, Africa world exports of manufactured goods in US$ Billions



India Manufactured goods


hAfrica Primary commodities


Source: Unctadstat

Second and more importantly, and close to home, while Indian and Zambian leaders trumpet strong and symbiotic political relationship, that, unfortunately tends to be blighted by perpetuated gross asymmetries in trade. India will correctly boast about its trade preferences offered to Zambia under the least developed country arrangement, which grants almost free market access for exports from our country. But like other available trade preferences in the world, in the USA, EU, China, etc, none has really helped Zambia to export value added products in a robust and qualitative manner.
As Figure 1 below shows, India’s exports of manufactured goods to Zambia overshadow by far those of primary commodities. Although in the World Trade Organization (WTO), where India and Zambia sit together as developing countries and in a combined way complain against uneven trade with the USA or developed countries, that configuration is abundantly present at South-South trade level. And, it is growing, not declining. India like China are strong supporters of least developed countries in WTO, arguing that the West should accompany their generous free market access with support for value addition for Zambia but at their end do little to translate words into action.

In the WTO and other international meetings, India and least developed countries will often speak with one voice to ask the West to provide technology transfer to help poor countries enter value addition and networks. Response by rich countries is often, “Governments have no control over private technology which belongs to private companies. The same language is spilling into South-South partnerships between poor and more advanced. In Zambia, any amount of manufacturing, small as it is seems to be more in the hands of our Indian-Zambian colleagues than ourselves. Obviously, they must be getting support from India. The same support can be rendered to us.
In Figure 2 below, I show the opposite picture of Zambia’s trade partnership with India. I show that Zambia’s exports are dominated by primary commodities leaving manufactured goods with only dots over the years. Of course, I largely blame the Zambian private sector which is often affluent in words and not so in action, for, like elsewhere not taking advantage of free market access. It is incomprehensive why for almost 60 years since Indian manufacturing business through our colleagues was introduced in Zambia, Zambians like me have not copied like Indians and Chinese do. In one of my previous articles, I expressed worry that once the Chinese and their shopping malls leave Zambia, I wonder if we’ll see similar products like rakes, hoes, etc produced by our brothers and sisters with same quality.

Let me conclude by reminding myself that the buck stops at Zambia and Zambians. But, let me suggest that India spends more time on these bilateral meetings with counterparts in Zambia to colloquy concrete steps that it can take to contribute to Zambia’s pursuit of value addition because it is correctly positioned to do so? Mauritius today is one of Africa’s champions of value addition. It’s progressing slowly but surely. The content of its world exports of manufactured goods in total in proportional terms is much higher than that for Zambia.
It would be difficult to argue that India is not involved. What lessons can Zambian private sector draw from Mauritius? I don’t hear stories about Mauritius from Zambian private sector. I don’t hear about visits to that country to learn how private sector is breaking through in value addition. Yet, collaboration between Zambia’s private sector, its Mauritian and Indian counterparts is what may provide a break through for us.
I would ensure establishment of memorandum of understanding in value addition with Mauritius and India. One of India’s reasons for success in value addition is its history of Indians working in the US Silicon Valley, learning and exporting manufacturing knowledge back to India. Can India replicate this in our favor by inviting Zambian students and workers into its “Indian Silicon Valley” as opposed to acquiring generalized or non-mathematics and science courses?