Chinese investments taking root in Central African nation

Updated: 2014-05-29 11:53

By Zhang Yuwei (China Daily USA)

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 Chinese investments taking root in Central African nation

Jean Marc (right) chats with a worker at Hua Jia factory during a break. Zhang Yuwei / China Daily

Jean Marc moved from a French timber company to Hua Jia Timber Industry Co Ltd 14 years ago. He said it was a good choice and he has since been taken good care of by his Chinese boss.

"C'est bon", he said as he walked along the log piles in the factory showing us the logs freshly processed by his fellow workers.

His boss' kindness is one factor; the major reason he has stayed on is because Hua Jia has a more complete factory system for timber processing. "It's more professional and makes the whole work process smooth," he said.

Jean Marc, 52, a Libreville native now works with 330 workers including 38 Chinese at Hua Jia, which has seven harvestable forest areas - totaling 350,000 hectares - outside of Libreville, the capital city of Gabon, a Central African country known for its rich resources in oil, gas and forests.

He supervises the group of workers in the processing factory based in the capital city. "The wood processing industry has helped create quite a few local jobs since the government banned unprocessed timber exports," he said.

Chinese investments taking root in Central African nation

Guangdong-based Yi Hua Timber Industry bought a 75 percent stake of Hua Jia last year. The Gabon-based company now mainly feeds Yi Hua processed timber for its furniture line. Kevazingo and Padouk are among the popular types that Hua Jia sends back to China every year.

Lv Qiuyin, Hua Jia's local manager, said what they do is different from the wood trade business some Chinese and European companies are doing.

"What we do doesn't really raise any environmental concerns because we cut old trees and we need to protect our harvestable land here in order to make our supply sustainable," said Lv.

China-involved projects in Gabon have been taking off in recent years. Most of them are infrastructure related.

On the other side of the city near the China-Gabon Friendship Stadium - which was also built by a Chinese company - a hydropower station was recently completed by Sinohydro.

The facility provides electricity to residents of the Angondje area, said Ji Zhenwei, director of Sinodydro's Libreville office.

Most of Sinohydro's hydropower projects in Gabon are supported by China's Export-Import Bank, which provides them with low-interest loans.

Ji said they will present the government with a plan to build a nationwide electricity network after they finish the local network in Libreville. "Right now the electricity networks here are fragmented," said Ji.

Despite the rich resources in the Central Africa state, like many other African countries, Gabon is in need of infrastructure improvement. There is a lack of local people who have technical, construction skills, said Ji.

Ji said their profit from each project is about 3 to 5 percent compared with the normal 8 to 10 percent. "We are here to help improve the local infrastructure and to create a brand," said Ji.

Near Libreville's city center, some 130 workers - about one fourth of them Chinese - are building the first phase of the city center development, a 350,000-square-meter waterfront project scheduled to be completed at the end of the year.

China Harbor Engineering Co won the $120 million with the Gabonese government last year for building the iconic waterfront for part of the city center development in Libreville. When in full operation, the center will create at least 2,500 jobs.

Serge Ndong Obame, an assistant public relations officer at the national agency of infrastructure, said the city center development is a "significant" project for the capital city where there is a lack of facilities like schools, hospitals and museums. "These are the main things we need so it will become our assets," said Obame. "It will for sure promote a lot of tourism, which will help the economy." The public bid for the second phase of the city center, which will involve some actually building construction will start early next year. "It's open to all companies to bid but Chinese companies usually have a good reputation to follow through on their work here in Africa," said Obame.

Ezzel Jebbari, a local consultant for construction projects of China Africa Star Group, a local company invested through Beijing-based Chuanbei Vacuum Technology Co. Ltd, shares this sentiment.

He said Chinese investors show a higher level of patience when they do business in Africa.

"The difference between Chinese companies and European companies here is that the Chinese are more focused," said Jebbari. "When they get a contract, they start it and they delivery it quickly. That's their reputation you can see here."

Contact the writer at yuweizhang@chinadailyusa.com.

(China Daily USA 05/29/2014 page2)

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