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Chinese envoy tips Batswana entrepreneurs

The outgoing Chinese ambassador to Botswana, Ding Xiawoen believes Batswana businesspeople are slowly copying their Chinese counterparts in retail entrepreneurship and will soon dominate the clothes and electronic gadgets sector.

Speaking in a interview with Business Week, the envoy said that more than 1,000 Batswana went to China in 2008 and imported containers of clothing and electronic gadgets. "This is a new phenomenon, that was not there five years ago and I believe with the help of government, more and more local people will venture into this type of business and run the Chinese out of business," he said.

He suggested that Chinese traders may have virtually taken over the clothing shops business at the expense of Batswana because of globalisation and the immaturity of the Batswana market.

"I hope Batswana will learn from the Chinese and do as China does. If the local entrepreneurs want to push the Chinese out of business, I think they should just simply do better than the Chinese. They should bring in more of the low cost goods, with a wide variety for the convenience of the consumers and then the Chinese will leave gradually.

"At the end of the day, with this globalisation, business is still business. For the consumers, no one wants to buy less and spend more," he said.

"But I believe the current situation is temporary and the solution lies with Batswana as they should try to be more competitive and go to China and import the gadgets and the clothes," he said.

Ding said that 30 years ago, his country was faced with the same situation and was importing virtually everything from Japan and the Chinese people complained to the government about the dominance of the Japanese traders. "They were instead told by government to learn from the Japanese and now we even do better than them in some instances. So I believe that in an immature market like Botswana, it is better for the locals to learn from the Chinese than to try and install protectionism at the expense of the consumers. However, I still believe there should be some preferential treatment for the locals as the economy is still very young," he said.He stated that the quality of Chinese goods offered in Botswana has improved.

"I agree that that six years ago, the quality was very low but now I think it has improved. It is now reasonably good quality that someone can wear for several years at a very reasonable price. I think we should make a distinction between high quality which is very expensive and the Chinese goods which have reasonable quality at reasonable prices," he said.

Ding spoke about the complaints that workers at Chinese put in long hours.

He said that as long as there is demand for the goods, shops should remain open. "When you open a shop, it is for the purpose of making money and for as long as the customers are still coming in, they should not close them out," he said.

Ding told Batswana to report any cases where Chinese employers are abusing workers. "I have heard a lot of general complaints about local workers being made to work long hours. If someone is being made to work long hours without extra pay in violation of Botswana laws, such cases should be reported immediately and appropriate action will be taken," he said.

(Mmegi, 13 February, 2009)

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