Trends in China-Africa Economic Relations and Dispute Settlement

Kidane, Won | May 1, 2023

The rapid rise in the last two decades of China-Africa economic interactions in trade, investment, construction projects, and loans require sustained inquiry into the substantive rules of engagement and mechanisms of dispute settlement. Evidently, however, it would quickly emerge that the improvements in supranational legal frameworks have not kept pace with the growing scale and complexity of the economic interactions. While trade relations between China and Africa are theoretically subject to the same multilateral World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, they are in practice mostly based on informal unilateral concessions. Moreover, investment relations are partially governed by fragmented and mostly outdated bilateral investment treaties (BITs), and commercial relations are formalized by ad hoc contractual instruments of diverse origin and deployment. Because these economic relations are often orchestrated through confidential and fragmented micro-level contractual instruments unsupported by larger institutional frameworks, two important questions need to be asked: (1) whether the lack of durable legal and institutional commitment is a function of socio-cultural factors, diminished optimism, politics, or just outright pragmatism; (2) whether the contracts-based economic legal ordering that relies on existing rules and institutions is optimal and durable. This article attempts to answer these and related questions.