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Ethiopia joins caravan going to China's west

Updated: 2014-08-08 07:23
By Hu Haiyan and Tan Yingzi ( China Daily Africa)

Ethiopia joins caravan going to China's west

Girma Temesgen says China and Ethiopia could work more closely together in many areas. Tan Yingzi / China Daily

Country becomes first in Africa to have a consular office in Chongqing

Ethiopia aims to build itself into the manufacturing hub of Africa within six years, and China can have a key role in ensuring it achieves that goal, says Girma Temesgen, a senior Ethiopian diplomat.

Temesgen, 56, the consul-general for his country in Chongqing, says China and Ethiopia could work more closely together in areas including trade and investment, infrastructure construction, tourism and people-to-people exchanges.

"China has become the largest investor in Ethiopia," says Temesgen, speaking in his office in Yu Zhong district of Chongqing, one of the municipality's most frenetic business centers.

"There is Chinese investment in many areas but there is still a huge amount of potential to draw on. Ethiopia is eager to seek more opportunities to work with China. In the past we have wasted time, and now we have to get on with it."

Ethiopia joins caravan going to China's west

There are many attractions for anyone wanting to trade with Ethiopia, including favorable investment policies, an abundance of raw materials such as leather and cotton, and cheap labor and electricity, he says.

"Ethiopia gets preferential treatment in Europe and the US. If you make products in Africa and sell them to Europe and the US there are big tax breaks. Our land and soil are well suited to growing cotton, and we are rich in resources such as water and electricity."

Ethiopia is Africa's leading cotton producer and ranks 10th in the world, he says.

The country is busy building roads and railways with Chinese help, and when Premier Li Keqiang visited the country in May, he said China and several African countries planned to set up the Africa China Railway Academy in Ethiopia.

"This will extend China's railway technology to Africa via Ethiopia, where the headquarters of the African Union is, and where participating African countries can meet," Temesgen says. "This can be a boon to developing countries like Ethiopia, helping them improve their transport infrastructure."

China has just started work on an electrified railway connecting Addis Ababa in Ethiopia and Djibouti.

Temesgen is also busy promoting tourism, given that Africa is an ever more attractive sightseeing destination for Chinese.

He joined Ethiopia's diplomatic service 14 years ago, his first posting being as a counselor at the embassy in Berlin, earlier having studied at Leipzig University.

He went to China for the first time in 2010, for the World Expo in Shanghai.

In Chongqing he feels at home, he says, partly because he is an aficionado of spicy food, something the municipality and his country have in common.

Trade and investment between western China and Ethiopia is meager, he says, but Ethiopia wants to change that, which is exactly why he has been posted to Chongqing.

"Compared with trade and investment between Ethiopia and other parts of China, such as coastal cities like Guangzhou and Shanghai, the figures are very small at the moment."

Ethiopia now has four representative offices in China: the embassy in Beijing and three consulates. The consulate in Shanghai is responsible for Ethiopia's interests in East China; the consulate in Guangzhou in South China; and the consul in Chongqing in southwest.

Ethiopia is the only African country to have official representation in Chongqing, Temesgen says, which reflects the importance Beijing attaches to its go-west campaign.

"Chongqing has become the center of that strategy, which is why we decided to set up our office here. In addition, there are many big companies in Chongqing, and we need them to go to Africa."

One of the biggest challenges in developing trade and investment between Ethiopia and China in this area is that most people and companies in western China know little about Africa, he says.

The Ethiopian consulate in Chongqing is now playing an educational role in trying to fill those gaps, particularly relating to Ethiopia, he says. In May the consulate arranged for 23 companies from the city to visit Ethiopia to explore commercial opportunities. Among them was Chongqing Lifan Group, one of the largest motorcycle and automakers in China.

"Two of those companies have invested in Ethiopia and some are still looking at the possibilities," Temesgen says.

He is delighted that academic exchanges between his country and Chongqing are growing.

Last year about seven Ethiopian students were studying in Chongqing, and "we expect five students to come here in September".

Chongqing is his favorite city in China, he says. He collects Chinese art and works of Chinese calligraphy hanging in his office.

Ethiopia is forward-thinking in business, as seen by its setting up a consulate in western China, he says, and it wants to collaborate more with the city. That includes direct flights.

"As one of the largest airlines in Africa, Ethiopian Airlines has daily flights to Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Now it is looking at flying to Chongqing, depending on demand and profitability."

One thing that Ethiopia and China have in common is that both have many ethnic groups, he says.

"Ethiopia is a country with a long history, similar to China. It is where the alphabet was formed and the first people appeared. It has suffered greatly from poverty but will fight that to the end. In that regard it can learn from China. No other country has succeeded in fighting poverty like China. It has shown its strength in making poverty history and in building a strong economy."

China's GDP has grown more than 10 percent on average over the past 30 years, and that is something else Ethiopia can learn from, he says, which is why it is opening more offices in China.

Contact the writer through huhaiyan@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily Africa Weekly 08/08/2014 page32)

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