Saturday, November 07, 2009

China Offers Africa More Trade, Investment

China offers Africa more trade, investment

Associated Press | 07 Nov 2009 | 07:56 AM ET

SHARM EL-SHEIK, Egypt - China appeared on Saturday to be adopting a more nuanced investment approach in Africa amid stiff criticism that its aggressive quest for natural resources has ignored local human rights violations.

Ahead of a two-day China-Africa forum beginning Sunday, China's Commerce Minister Chen Deming said Beijing is offering to abolish import duties on some African commodities and ensure that its exports to the continent are safe.

The suggestions outlined in an article published Saturday appear part of an effort by China to show that it is balancing its mushrooming needs with those of a continent that is saddled with some of the highest poverty rates in the world, a debilitating AIDS epidemic and chronic corruption and conflict.

"Of course China's objectives are to grow its economy," said Edward K. Brown, director for policy services at the Africa Center for Economic Transformation, a research and policy advisory organization based in Ghana.

But Brown said Africa's leaders must also shoulder the same burden.

"Africans need to up the ante to see how they can best leverage their potential and ensure that Chinese investments are channeled into those areas where they generate the most value," he said.

The meeting Sunday in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik is a continuation of a push launched in 2006 by the energy hungry Asian giant into a resource-rich continent — a drive that included billions in investments in infrastructure.

Chinese investments in Africa totaled $7.8 billion as of last year, while trade has rocketed 30 percent annually this decade, exceeding $100 billion last year, Chen said in an essay published in the state-run China Daily newspaper.

Africa, however, has not been China's only target.

While long major player in Sudan's oil industry, Beijing has also been reaching out to Gulf Arab states and other Arab OPEC members. It has signed a refinery deal with Kuwait and Chinese refiner Sinopec has set up a multibillion dollar joint venture petrochemicals plant with Saudi Arabia's SABIC.

Most recently, Chinese companies have bid aggressively to develop some of Iraq's most prized oil fields even as some Western oil majors have been reluctant to take on the task in a country still grappling with violence following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of the country.

But its Africa investments have been the lightning rod for critics, focusing attention on a country whose own human rights record has been the catalyst for continuous criticism by many Western governments and international advocacy groups.

An announcement that a little-known Chinese company signed a $7 billion mining deal with Guinea's repressive military regime only served to underscore that sentiment. The deal came shortly after Guinean soldiers opened fire on demonstrators in September, killing over 150 people.

Beijing said has said it was not involved in that deal and officials have in recent weeks stressed they are looking to foster responsible development in Africa, including through human resource development and agriculture.

Among the new measure outlined in the Saturday article by Chen, the commerce minister, are exempting unspecified types of commodities from customs duties, setting up logistics centers in Africa and creating an inspection system to weed out trade in substandard consumer goods.

China would also continue to build schools and hospitals, support malaria-prevention programs and improve farming methods in Africa, Chen said.

"China has closely followed the development of Africa and sincerely wishes to make its contributions to the African people in developing their nations and creating a better life," he said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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