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China in Africa: The Real Story

Mysterious Chinese Imports from Africa?

Deborah Brautigam

What is Africa exporting to China? A reader asked me: why are 26% of African exports to China reported as "unspecified"? This HS 98 "Special Classification Provisions, Not elsewhere specified" category has grown hugely over the past few years. I've pasted the top four imports in the trade data below (all in millions). In 2007, this category was about 1% of total imports. By 2013, it's up to 25%. What is in this category? Readers' insights welcome. (updated to include the Chinese definition for HS 98 -- each country can define their own contents for HS 98)
2007  2008  2009  2010  2011  2012  2013 
All Commodies 36,229 55,883 43,184 66,896 93,140 113,087 116,993
Mineral Fuel, Oil Etc.;  25,997 39,489 27,828 41,475 49,073 56,084 54,013
Special Classification Provisions, Nesoi 578 1,551 902 3,401 15,926 28,941 30,275
Ores, Slag And Ash 3,298 7,254 6,049 8,864 12,620 11,320 13,810

UPDATE April 18, 2014:  China's definition of HS 98 from China Customs, below (thank you Bi Hanning). Still not clear why it has grown so large, but I suspect many importers are simply classifying imports as "other unclassified commodities"...

UPDATE April 28, 2014: A paper by Africa trade expert Dr. Ron Sandrey, "Assessing South Africa's Trading Relationship with China," also raises questions about this strange gap in data for South Africa's exports to China. He wonders if perhaps it represents exports of gold (although China is itself one of the largest gold producers in the world). Chinese trade experts, do weigh in!