Time to rethink trade with China

HARARE - While we welcome trade growth between Zimbabwe and China which was highlighted by the high-profile visit of the Chinese president Xi Jingping last week — where a string of deals were signed between the two countries — we will not stop raising concerns about the deplorable labour relations in most companies that are run by the Chinese and also the present trade model which favours the Chinese and in some cases kills our local industries.

Doubtless, the Chinese have benefited immensely from Zimbabwe’s so-called Look East policy and are raking rewards from mining and construction activities around the country — albeit at the expense of locals and the country’s present sorry state leaves us vulnerable to abuse from the powerful countries of this world.

Now is the time for our policy makers to realise that extractive trade in raw materials without value addition, understating the value of un-mined natural resources; bringing labour from China with low employment of locals; no skills or technology transfer are only doing us harm and favour the Chinese who are presently enjoying an unprecedented economic boom at home.

Hardly a week passes without reports of workers from a Chinese-owned company complaining over alleged poor labour practices and authorities should read the riot act, to such firms who break the law with impunity — safe in the comfort that there are the untouchables.

At some point, our textile industry was poised for growth, but now it is dead thanks to the influx of cheap Chinese imports. The Chinese’s tendencies, which regrettably, are allowed to persist by authorities whereby they buy primary goods and then sell manufactured goods to Africa; unfair local labour practices and cheaper Chinese goods are detrimental to the growth of African industries.

After Jinping left the country, he went to South Africa for a meeting between his country and the African continent and we only hope that our leaders realise the long-term effects of a lopsided trading model which is fast de-industrialising our countries at a time when the trading partner is surging in terms of economic development.

In particular, the African textile industry has been decimated by cheap Chinese imports. While China’s trade with Africa has surged from $10 billion in 2000 to $166 billion in 2011, who is winning in this relationship?

Sentimental attachments such as President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF’s mantra “China is an all-weather friend” should be put aside and it should now dawn on our policy-makers that even though China helped us during the liberation struggle — there are not angels but are a global business and economic giant which is now the second biggest economy in the world.

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