China adresses imbalances as trade with SA soars

21st May 2008 By: Christy van der Merwe

As China and South Africa celebrated ten years of diplomatic ties, trade cooperation was discussed, and a focus on addressing bilateral trade imbalances was emphasised.

South African Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry Dr Rob Davies noted that total trade between South Africa and China was up from R5,2-billion in 1998, to R72,9-billion in 2007. He also noted that imports from China into South Africa totalled about R49,1-billion, and exports from South Africa to China were about R23,7-billion.

"That poses some very significant challenges to us, to narrow the gap, and to increase exports of higher value-added products," Davies stated. Some of the potential products identified for export to China included motor vehicles and components, steel products, platinum products, various agro-industrial products as well as services such as financial services.

Former vice foreign Minister of China Ji Peiding said that it was inevitable that some undesirable elements emerge in the rapid growth of China-Africa cooperation.

"There are some bilateral trade imbalances - some African industries are challenged by Chinese imports, and some Chinese companies have failed to meet environmental and labour standards. To solve these problems the Chinese government has worked earnestly with the African side and taken proper measures to address them," Peiding said.

In an effort to balance China Africa trade, China had given zero-tariff treatment to some African export commodities, and set up a China-Africa Development Fund for capacity building in Africa.

The Chinese government had also "limited its export to South Africa to help improve the competitive edge of relevant industries in South Africa". The most notable was the limit of textile imports from China into South Africa. "The clothing and textile quota agreement has been significant and created a breathing space for restructure of the South African industry," reiterated Davies.

Achievements in Sino-African relations were said to have reached new heights through the ICBC-Standard Bank deal, which was an investment of some $5,46-billion.

"Such mutual investment has injected new vitality into our economies," affirmed Peiding. And indeed, Davies observed that in the current global economic downturn, South-South, or China-Africa relations, offered a buffer against the global financial crisis. It was no longer the case that "when the US caught a cold the rest of us got double pneumonia", he said.

China's growth was estimated by the International Monetary Fund to decline from 11,4%, to "a still impressive" 9,3%.

Peiding stated that China was willing to share its development experience with African countries. "The mature technologies and equipment that China has developed over the past decades are more suitable to the conditions of developing countries, and more economical and applicable for African countries," he added.

"There are some people accusing China of using its cooperation with Africa to plunder African energy and mineral resources. China will never accept such unwarranted accusations, and nor will African countries," stated Peiding, and noted the more than 900 infrastructure and public welfare projects on the African continent that China had been involved in.

"China-Africa cooperation creates conditions to transform our resources and technological advantages into development advantages, which is what win-win cooperation is all about," Peiding remarked.