Beijing — The lack of continental infrastructure in Africa is a significant stumbling block when it comes to value-addition of its raw materials.
These were the sentiments of Vice-President of the China Institute of International Studies (CIIS), one of the top three think tanks of the Chinese government, Dr Liu Youfa, during a press conference on Tuesday here in the Chinese capital Beijing.
Over 20 African journalists were part of various media briefing sessions in preparation for the much-vaunted 5th Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), which started yesterday.
"We have been lobbying to top up infrastructure to connect African countries," said Youfa, adding that inland countries depend on costly air transport for trade. Youfa said infrastructure development would expedite investment and the flow of trade of primary and manufactured goods on the continent, as well as internationally.
Furthermore, he emphasised that the import of raw material from Africa should not continue long into the future, since China is doing everything it can to help the continent to industrialise.
"We should explore [avenues] to help African goods so that they can be marketed in China and internationally," offered Youfa. He further stressed that Africa should manufacture more goods for the consumption needs of China, since people cannot live on arts and crafts alone.
According to the Deputy Director-General of the Information Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ma Jisheng, African exports to China currently amount to about US$90 billion compared to a mere US$500 million in 2000.
China intends to support African countries with infrastructure development and construction to help achieve sufficient capacity for further economic development.
Responding to concerns over how China interacts with African people and African governments that do not always work for the interest of their people, Jisheng explained that it is difficult for outsiders to know the internal dynamics and issues in different countries.
He added that it would be impossible to ask each individual person what he or she needs, therefore the Chinese government opts to work with elected governments. "We can only deal with your governments until the people elect another government," he added.
Jisheng also touched on Chinese companies that have gained notoriety in Africa for not respecting labour laws and regulations. He explained that small Chinese companies in Africa give the country a bad reputation since they continue to do as they please abroad even though the Chinese government does not allow these companies to damage the relationship between China and Africa.
In addition, Senior Fellow in Residence at CIIS, Jia Xiudong, admitted to knowing about the abundance of sub-standard Chinese goods in Africa, but could not provide statistics on how much by the time of going to print.
However, Xiudong added that the trade volume of these goods could be substantial and that it is bad for Chinese businesses that are doing a legitimate job.
Youfa advised recipients of sub-standard Chinese products to lay formal complaints with the commercial sections of the country's embassies abroad with pictures, descriptions of the goods and the identification of the sellers.
"We have to strengthen regulation and supervision to detect sub-standard goods," he stressed, adding that both China and Africa need to cooperate in this regard. He pointed out, however, that both African and Chinese business people use existing loopholes to maximise profits.
"This is not the Chinese government's intention, but both parties lack oversight and both must address [the issue]," he said, adding that the customs and quarantine checks on both sides need to be tightened.
At another press conference, the Director- General of the Department of Africa in China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Lu Shaye, added that lifting the African manufacturing sector, as well as value addition, would be part of the focus of FOCAC.
"The opening of Chinese markets to African products will be under discussion," he emphasised, adding that red wine from South Africa is now exported to China. According to Shaye, a campaign has been launched to curb the shipping of fake goods to Africa, however this business continues depending on both the buyers and sellers of fake goods.
Six African presidents, two prime ministers and a number of foreign ministers are expected to attend the conference, which started yesterday and will continue today.