Nigeria : Chinese-Nigeria Free Trade Zone

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PanAfrica: China And Africa - for Better Or for Worse?

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

ANALYSIS
June 27, 2006
Posted to the web June 27, 2006

Dakar

Given China's growing hunger for natural resources and Africa's persistent need for economic aid, the world's most populous country and the globe's poorest continent appear to be nurturing a perfect symbiotic relationship.

Or is it?

China has dubbed 2006 the "Year of Africa." Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao just wrapped up an African tour of seven nations, including Egypt, Ghana, Congo, Angola, South Africa, Uganda and Tanzania. Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Nigeria, Kenya and Morocco earlier this year.

In addition, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade last week became the latest African head of state to make an official visit to China. Beijing will host a China-Africa summit in November.

"Our objective through this cooperation with Africa is to reinforce the capacity of Africa to have its own autonomous development," said Jiabao during his visit to the Congolese capital Brazzaville. "In cooperating with Africa, China is not looking for selfish gains. We are committed to two principles: equality, benefits both ways, and the non-interference in internal African affairs."

NO STRINGS ATTACHED

But human rights groups caution that China's quest for raw materials could undermine respect for human rights and efforts at political reform in Africa.

"We do recognise that China is having an adverse effect on human rights in other countries because by dealing with repressive regimes, such as in Sudan, and putting its economic and trading interests ahead of concern for human rights it's allowing these regimes to be provided with resources that they would not otherwise get so easily," said Sariah Rees-Roberts, a press officer for London-based Amnesty International.

Whereas Western donors often condition aid on political reform and respect for human rights, China essentially asks only one thing of African nations: that they adhere to its one-China policy. African countries that fail to recognise Taiwan as a part of China are unlikely to benefit from investment and debt relief from Beijing.

Likewise, African nations, including those with poor human rights records, can benefit diplomatically. China, as one of five permanent members on the UN Security Council, has already threatened to veto sanctions against Sudan for what some Western nations call genocide in Sudan's Darfur region. Sudan is a key oil supplier to China.

To help fuel its booming economy, China is investing in Africa like never before. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that Africa's growth is edging towards six percent, the highest in 30 years, due in part to Chinese investment. Total trade between Africa and China should exceed US $50 billion this year and could reach US $100 billion by 2010, according to the IMF.

"On one hand I think it can be very beneficial to Africa - the demand that China is creating for natural resources and products that Africa has," said Walter Kansteiner III, former US assistant secretary of state for African Affairs. "It lifts prices, brings volume up and increases opportunities for increased capital flow and employment opportunities for Africa."

"What is going to be a challenge going forward is to make sure that those increases in supply and demand are matched in an orderly, environmental, and from a human rights point of view, in a proper way," he said.

THIRST FOR FUEL

China's biggest appetite is for petroleum. Angola, sub-Saharan Africa's second largest oil producer behind Nigeria, now exports most of its oil to China. Beijing has invested billions in Angola, Nigeria and Sudan to secure drilling rights.

China also has high demand for other resources, including cotton. Chinese cotton imports from Benin, Togo, Mali, Cameroon and Burkina Faso, have boomed. Imports from Benin alone increased at least four-fold between 2002 and 2004, according to UN commodity trade statistics.


In return, African markets have been flooded with inexpensive Chinese goods such as kitchen utensils, shoes, electronic goods and clothes. Chinese exports to Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, have doubled since 2002.

However, some African manufacturers, specifically textile manufacturers, have suffered as a result. The South African Textiles Union says some 60,000 jobs have been lost.

"On the one hand learning to stand up against competition is a good thing because that's the way forward, but on the other hand, because the manufacturing sector is quite weak in Africa, that could easily wipe out young industries," said Andrea Bohnstedt, Africa analyst with Global Insight, a London-based economic and political forecasting company. "And also it's obviously politically unpopular because most African countries have quite high unemployment rates already."

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