Windhoek — While Namibia has largely realized its political objectives of freeing itself from colonial domination, the same cannot be said for the country's economic imperative to change its status from being a supplier of raw, unprocessed resources to developed economies.
This Minister of Trade and Industry Calle Schlettwein, said this when he welcomed China's Minister of Commerce, Chen Deming, and his delegation who yesterday started their three-day official visit. In response, the visiting Chinese Minister, speaking through an interpreter, said he expects more Chinese companies to add value to raw products in Namibia.
"The Chinese government is looking at investing more in processing and labour intensive industries in Namibia," commented Chen. During yesterday's meeting with the visiting Chinese delegation, Schlettwein emphasized: "The reality that we face is that we cannot achieve the required level of economic growth and ensure prosperity for all our citizens by being and continuing to be largely an exporter of raw materials or unprocessed goods and also an importer of almost all the goods we consume."
Last year bilateral trade between Namibia and China amounted to US$678 million, which is a 30 percent increase compared to 2011. However, Chinese investment in the Namibian economy amounted to a mere US$15 million last year, a figure Chen says will be increased to contribute to Namibia's manufacturing and processing capacity.
"It is a worrisome reality that countries in Africa, Namibia included, that are richly endowed with mineral and other natural resources have remained poor and economically underdeveloped, with a significant number of their citizens still living in severe poverty. One of the main root causes of this is the continued dependence on the production and export of primary commodities that are prone to fluctuations in demand and prices in the global market," said Schlettwein.
He added that huge investments in resource extraction have also not resulted in much needed jobs, given that such extractive operations are often capital intensive and the minerals extracted are often exported in their raw form. The Trade and Industry Minister elaborated that Namibia needs to increase its industrial capacity and output with a special emphasis on local value addition to its own resources to the highest degree possible in order to create both economic benefits and employment.
According to Schlettwein, who invited the Chinese Minister and his 11-member delegation, yesterday's meeting was designed for the two countries to take stock of their bilateral economic ties and cooperation and to explore ways to improve the relationship for greater mutual benefit. "For us to build a critical production mass, we recognize the need for foreign direct investment to supplement domestic savings and investments, especially in our priority areas such as manufacturing and value addition as well as the transfer of skills and technology", added Schlettwein.
Namibia's recently appointed Trade and Industry Minister and former Deputy Minister of Finance noted that he was pleased so far with Chinese investment in the country, such as the joint venture partnership between Chinese, Namibian and other companies in the Husab Uranium Project. China has also invested in other sectors, including roads and other transport infrastructure but Schlettwein commented that he would like to see similar partnerships in other sectors, particularly manufacturing and other priority industries.
During the welcoming ceremony, Schlettwein continued that in order for Namibia to develop and support increased industrial production, as well as capacity building the country needs preferential market access for its products, as well as genuine partnerships based on the principle of mutual benefit. In this regard he said it was pleasing to note the conclusion of agreements for the export of Namibian beef and fish products. However, he added that "the assistance of the (Chinese) Minister and Ministry of Commerce will also be appreciated in expediting the certification process in order to commence with actual exports".