Namibia: The Copper Games

17 December 2019

CHINA'S appetite for minerals helped it to become Namibia's leading export destination consecutively, contributing around N$14,7 billion to the country's extractive earnings, the 2019 quarterly trade statistics show.

The Namibia Statistics Agency (NSA) indicated last week that Namibia mostly sells the majority of its unprocessed copper and uranium to China for further processing.

China's hunger for copper also led to Namibia importing copper cathodes from Zambia, and shipping them straight to China, making Zambia the second-leading country from which Namibia sources its copper imports from for three consecutive quarters of 2019.

Namibia also goes as far as importing copper ore from Bulgaria and Peru, refining it into copper blister, and shipping it to China.

NSA statistician general Alex Shimuafeni said trade between Namibia and China continues to grow, with more opportunities opening up since the strengthening of economic ties.

The trade account shows China continues to be a favourable destination for Namibian minerals, with the growth in exports to China mainly owing to minerals (copper, ore (uranium) and natural minerals and stones).

During the period under review, Namibia's exports were mostly destined for five countries, namely China, South Africa, Botswana, Belgium and Spain.

China, as in the previous two quarters, emerged as Namibia's largest export destination, absorbing 23,8% of all goods exported, compared to 20,1% for the second quarter, and 25% of the country's raw materials (copper and uranium) in the first quarter.

South Africa occupies second position, absorbing 21% of the total domestic exports, mostly live animals.

The country-dependence risk in China's appetite for minerals is shown in the decline of the export of ores, which contracted from N$2,8 million in the same quarter a year ago to record N$2,1 million during the reporting quarter, primarily due to a weak demand for ores by China.

According to the French centre for research and expertise on the world economy, CEPII, over 75% of Africa's exports outside the continent were extractives from 2012 to 2014, while less than 40% of intra-African trade was extractives in the same period.

The great risk with extractive exports is their volatility. This volatility put the fiscal and economic fate of too many African countries at risk.

The current signed African Continental Free Trade Area agreement aims to divert from extractive exports, and help to secure more sustainable and inclusive trade which is less dependent on the fluctuations of commodity prices.

Namibia's recent trade figures show that the overall value of exports and imports amounted to N$19,36 million and N$26,15 million, respectively, leaving the country with a deficit of N$6,79 million.

The top national exports are extractive commodities headed by copper, precious stones and metals, followed by mineral ores (uranium), live animals and fish.

According to the 2019 third-quarter trade statistics, copper (N$5,276 million), precious stones and metals (N$4,338 million), fish (N$2,440 million), ores (N$2,127 million); as well as live animals (N$532 million) were the leading commodities exported by the local economy.

Together, these commodities made up 76% of the total exports.

Subsequently, the annual deficit deteriorated, worsening by 44,9%, as the value of exports over the course of the year weakened, falling by 23,1%, as opposed to imports whose growth deteriorated by 12,4%.

On the contrary, the quarterly gap between exports and imports also deteriorated, growing by 82,8% as exports for the quarter fell by 18,3%, compared to a 4,6% decrease observed in the value of imports.


South Africa accounted for the largest share (49,9%) of the value of all goods absorbed into Namibia during the period under review, subsequently topping the list as Namibia's largest import market.

Recent figures show that the value of imports from South Africa stood at N$13,5 million, up 6% from N$12,3 million recorded in Q3 of 2018, and 0,4% up when compared to N$13 million registered in the previous quarter.

After South Africa, Zambia followed by contributing 15,6% to Namibia's total imports from the rest of the world.

The imports of copper increased, rising by 5,0% from N$4,098 million in Q3 of 2018 to N$4,301 million observed in Q3 of 2019.

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