Chinese vanishing act: six years after the Chinese had been offered a large piece of land on which to establish one of the five special economic zones it says it wants in Africa, nothing of substance has taken place. Both the Mauritian government and people are running out of patience. Nasseem Ackbarally reports from Port-Louis.

Author:Ackbarally, Nasseem
Position::Mauritius
 
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At Riche-Terre, a few kilometres north of the capital, Port-Louis, lies a large plot of land already derocked and cleaned and with a good road infrastructure, waiting for the Jin Fei's special economic zone to start as promised by Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam back in 2007.

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This special economic zone on 211 hectares of land is supposed to house factories engaged in textiles, light engineering, electronics, hotels, hospitals and offices. It would also create 40,000 jobs for the locals and thousands more and indirectly bring in MR25bn ($790m) investment and MR7bn ($221m) worth of exports annually, amongst other benefits. The region was supposed to bubble with economic activities.

So far, Mauritius has already invested MR0.5bn ($16m) on clearing the land and building the road, water and electricity infrastructure. So far nothing more has happened on this land from where hundreds of farmers who, for several decades, have been cultivating vegetables and fruits for the local market, have been removed. Everything is calm at Riche-Terre, except for some animals that are led there to graze.

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It all started a decade ago when Tianli Spinning Mills, a Chinese factory operating on the island since 2003 wanted to diversify its activities and produce recycled paper. The government offered Tianli the land at Riche-Terre, suggesting it set up an industrial zone and get involved in a variety of economic activities.

The land was offered earlier to Indians, who declined it. The area was too big for Tianli. It sought the help of the Governor of Shangxi province back home to find enterprises willing to join the group in this new venture.

Three other Chinese entities joined Tianli and the project was renamed Mauritius Jin. Fei Economic Trade and Cooperation Zone Co Ltd with Taiyuan Iron and Steel Co Ltd, Shangxi Coking Coal and Tianli in partnership with the China Africa Development Fund as equity partner.

Last chance for Chinese

The Prime Minister Mauritius, Navin Ramgoolam paid an official visit to China in 2007 and discussed the matter with Chinese President Hu Jin Tao. It was reported that Hu was interested and that he promised that Chinese enterprises would invest in the project.

Hu Jin Tao came to Mauritius in February 2009 and in his welcome address, Ramgoolam expressed his country's delight that the Chinese had chosen Mauritius to set up an economic and trade cooperation zone. He said the project would not...

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