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Trading places

Asia has risen to become Africa’s top trading partner, with plenty of demand for cargo shipments between the two regions. Keith Mwanalushi finds that while challenges to growth persist, there is greater focus to invest in air freight services
It is no secret that Asia and Africa have forged strong trade links over the last two decades. Furthermore, this trade lane has been driven by the growing appetite for Africa's commodities and the popularity of electronic gadgets from Asia. African airlines have registered significant growth in freight volumes between these two regions over the last couple of years. 
Sanjeev Gadhia, the CEO of Nairobi-based Astral Aviation Limited, tells Airline Cargo Management that the air freight market between Asia-Africa comprises mainly of e-commerce and electronic goods, which is intended for Africa’s growing middle class population.“China in particular is Africa’s leading trade-partner, and the growth is derived from high demand of all types of Chinese manufactured products into Africa,” he says. 
Astral Aviation is represented in Asia by its offline GSA, CTS in Hong Kong and Network Airline Services in China. “Most of the freight moves on interline carriers from Asia to our Nairobi hub for onward connection to Astral’s intra-African network of eight schedule destinations and 50 charter destinations. ”Gadhia lists that inbound cargoes from Asia comprise mostly of mobile phones, electronic goods, e-commerce and project cargoes, and popular outbound shipments from Nairobi to Asia are mainly seafood perishables. 
Except for Ethiopian Airlines Cargo, who operate direct China-Africa freighters, most of the freight is routed via the Middle East or Europe due to the lack of main-deck freighter capacity, Gadhia mentions. Ethiopian Cargo is the largest network cargo operator in Africa. Fitsum Abadi, Managing Director for Ethiopian Cargo and Logistics Services, says that, currently, eight freighter destinations are served in Asia by Boeing 777Fs including Hong Kong, Shanghai and Guangzhou. 
“We also operate to the major Indian airports like Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai.” Abadi adds that more than 90% of the cargo carried has a final destination in Africa.  
As Gadhia stated, much of the air freight is routed via the Middle East, and Emirates SkyCargo has an extensive presence across both Africa and Asia via its Dubai hub. 
“These are strategically important regions for us, and we are committed to growth to serve the growing economies across the Asian and African continents,” comments Khalid Al Hinai, Emirates Vice President Cargo Commercial Africa. 
Emirates serves 27 destinations across Africa and for Asia, with a network that spans over 40 destinations across East, South and Southeast Asia. And, of course, there are also 15 destinations served in the Middle East. “We offer a mix of bellyhold and main deck cargo capacity in these markets based on demand.” Al Hinai says the freighter fleet serve around 40 destinations globally on a scheduled basis, and out of this, over 15 cities are based in Africa and Asia.
“Through our network and frequency, we have been able to facilitate a large amount of trade between Africa, Asia and the rest of the world. Our strength is providing direct air connectivity with daily multiple departures to many places in Africa and the only carrier to be able to offer all widebody capacity. The bellyhold capacity on our passenger aircraft [ 777s and A380s] can take as much cargo as a small freighter aircraft. We are committed to adding more capacity to meet the growing demand as needed,” tells Al Hinai. 
Air cargo operators seem keen to plan accordingly in order to grow their presence on the trade lane. Gadhia reports that Astral Aviation is negotiating with interline partners to increase capacity from Hong Kong and Guangzhou to the Nairobi hub due to the absence of their own freighters on this route. “We want to expand our business from China to Africa with the view of carrying an increase in volume of cargo bags, which has become increasingly popular due to the ease of customs clearance”.
Gadhia adds that due to the lack of capacity from China to Africa, Astral is considering setting up a mini-hub in Dubai for consolidations of Chinese cargoes for onward distribution to Africa. Ethiopian Cargo is increasing both flight frequency as well as the number of destinations. Abadi states that the carrier has aligned its strategy to intensify its frequency connecting Asia with Africa – “We have also recently increased our frequency to Hong Kong and Guangzhou, and as a result we have the largest market share from those stations.”
Al Hinai regularly sees instances where Emirates SkyCargo has been able to help develop new markets for exporters and help trade growth. He says with rapid economic growth across many countries in Africa, consumer demand is on the rise, and consequently cargo imports are showing growth – “For instance, we were able to support exports from Asia, which include a high volume of telecom equipment to cater to infrastructural development, a wide range of mobile phones, pharmaceuticals, equipment and machinery, and other commodities.”
In the last three years, among other shipments, Emirates has transported more than 800,000 units of malaria tester kits and other associated equipment from South Korea to Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Nigeria. Al Hinai also speaks of the essential need for rapid flight connections between East Asia and Africa. “We are able to offer some of the quickest connections between several points in Asia and Africa through Dubai. We also facilitate increasing quantities of exports such as fruits, vegetables, flowers and seafood from Africa to different parts of the world, including the Middle East, Asia and Europe.” >>

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