Sustainable growth is an article of faith

Updated: 2014-07-01 08:52

By Li Lianxing (China Daily)

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Support from China

When Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited Africa last month, he said China would support Africa's vision of expanding and upgrading its industries. Chinese investors would focus more on building factories and other industrial infrastructure in the continent to help it achieve its goal of industrialization.

When Chinese companies move to Africa to reduce overhead and to be closer to both raw materials and markets, the cost of introducing green technology in production can be problematic for many.

Andy Lu, deputy general manager of Hongxing Steel Co Ltd in Nigeria's largest city, Lagos, says that when local authorities and the public demand environmental control measures, companies may be left with only two choices: staying and leaving.

"If you stay, you're going to have to accept a cut in profits by bringing in more-advanced equipment to reduce exhaust smoke. Otherwise you're going to be kicked out."

His factory was using equipment imported from China that was not designed to handle thick smoke caused by low-grade scrap iron collected locally. So experts were called in to design and build machinery for the company that complied with local regulations.

"It knocked nearly 20 percent off our annual profit at the time, but we had to do it to make our development in Nigeria a long-term project," Lu says.

Chinese companies are also involved in many construction projects in Africa, which are often seen as anything but green. But Huang Zhengli, senior project consultant of the School of Architecture at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, says that if green architecture were introduced across Africa, that perception could be dispelled, and local communities would benefit greatly.

Huang and a research team have been looking at the use of a light-steel building system, and they are now working on renovating a primary school in Mathare Valley, a collection of slums in Nairobi. The school receives financial help from a Chinese business association in Kenya.

"The design guarantees that assembly is easy, using manual tools so locals are involved in construction, which is essential to capacity building and helps to bond users to their physical environment."

That makes Africa a perfect market for the building design, and a huge one, she says.

Li Jun, project manager of the China-Africa Development Bank in Tanzania, says Chinese investors must realize that a successful industrial transfer must produce both economic and social benefits, but the possibilities are limited in Africa because of its less-developed infrastructure.

"African countries lack direct environmental protection in many cases and are using Western standards to guide primary-stage industries, so China should use its experience to balance this.

"But there needs to be sufficient communication with African governments, and that communication also needs to be efficient."

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