Ambassador Zhu Liying, representing the People’s Republic of China in Mauritius provides a comprehensive assessment of the existing trade and investment relations between China and Mauritius. He sheds light on the remarkable expansion in trade, the consequential influence of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA), and the prospective advantages that lie ahead for Mauritius. Furthermore, Ambassador Zhu delves into the shared challenges encountered by both nations in fostering trade and investment while sharing his perspectives on the most recent advancements within the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
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How would you evaluate the current state of trade and investment relations between China and Mauritius?
China has been Mauritius’ leading trading partner for many years, particularly in terms of exporting goods to Mauritius. Notably, basic products like electronics and food continue to be well-received by the Mauritian public. What’s particularly striking to me is the increasing presence of the latest generation of Chinese electric and hybrid vehicles, such as BYD and GM, on Mauritian roads. In the reverse direction, Mauritius’ flagship products, especially special sugars and rums, have experienced remarkable success in the Chinese market in recent years.
In terms of investment, it’s worth highlighting the Jinfei project, which stands as the largest economic park investment initiative in Mauritius. With the post-COVID economic recovery gaining momentum, Jinfei has plans to diversify its activities in collaboration with Mauritius to further capitalize on this significant platform.
How has the Free Trade Agreement between China and Mauritius benefited the Mauritian economy? What are the potential advantages of this agreement for Mauritius in the future?
Starting on January 1, 2021, our two countries began implementing the Free Trade Agreement (FTA). This is the first and only FTA at the China-Africa level. Thanks to the implementation of this agreement, the volume of trade has significantly increased. In 2021, the first year of the FTA, trade volume reached $914 million, a 20.5% increase. In 2022, the second year, it amounted to $1.8 billion, a 15.8% increase. The export value of Mauritian sugar to China increased by 1997%, while special sugars saw a 497% increase. Goods benefiting from zero tariffs on both sides exceeded 94%, and for services, a positive list was open to the 11 most important areas, including trade, finance, education, construction, tourism, health, and more.
At the end of last August, the Sino-Mauritian inter-governmental delegations held their first joint commission meeting in Port Louis to assess the balance and prepare for the future of the FTA. Both parties reaffirmed their determination to strengthen and deepen the win-win partnership spirit of our trade cooperation embodied by the FTA. The prospects for economic relations, including trade and investment, appear very promising.
Mauritian newspapers have reported that Mauritius will export its pineapples and lychees to China under the FTA. In any case, the Chinese side, very positive about this idea, will send experts during the appropriate season to work towards this goal.
I would like to emphasize that China attaches great importance to its cooperation with Mauritius. We want to strengthen this cooperation through the application of the FTA to further promote trade and investment and make this FTA exemplary for potential similar agreements at the China-Africa level.
Certain economic actors have highlighted the necessity of promoting awareness among businesses in both nations regarding this agreement. Is this initiative receiving adequate visibility?
Not only economic actors but also policymakers strongly desire that businesses from both countries participate more actively in Sino-Mauritian cooperation and fully benefit from the FTA. For example, at the end of June, in China, during the China-Africa Expo held in Hunan province (an annual event organized by the Chinese central government), we highlighted the positive effects of the Sino-Mauritian FTA to raise awareness among businesses. Another example is the upcoming China International Import Expo in Shanghai this November, also an annual event organized by the Chinese central government with the goal of importing the highest quality goods and services from around the world. We expect a strong presence from Mauritius at this event to further promote Mauritian flagship products while benefiting from the FTA.
Last year, you mentioned in Investor’s Mag that more and more Chinese companies are coming to Mauritius. Is this still the case now?
Mauritius enjoys unparalleled advantages: financial facilities, infrastructure, quality of life, stability, and security. These are very important conditions for attracting international businesses. It is entirely natural for capital to flow where it can generate profits safely. It’s noteworthy that global security is regrettably becoming scarcer.. What we observe is Chinese companies thriving in Mauritius and an increasing number of them setting up operations in the country. The Economic Development Board (EDB) has been of great assistance in this regard. In conjunction with the last joint commission meeting on the FTA, my embassy, in collaboration with EDB, organized the FTA Cooperation Forum. Chinese companies from China and Chinese companies already established in mainland Africa actively participated. This demonstrates that, thanks to the tangible results of the FTA’s implementation, Chinese companies are increasingly interested in Mauritius.
What challenges do both countries face in promoting trade and investment?
In my opinion, the challenges are complacency and lack of knowledge. First, complacency. There’s a Chinese proverb that says, “When you sail against the current, if you don’t move forward, you move backward.” The world is evolving rapidly. While Sino-Mauritian cooperation is exemplary today, other African countries may take the lead tomorrow. Therefore, it is essential to continuously demonstrate creativity, innovation, and implementation strength to maintain and strengthen Mauritius’ role as a hub in Africa and attract more international, particularly Chinese, investments in new sectors.
Second, lack of knowledge. On the Chinese side, there is insufficient understanding of Mauritius’ role as a hub in Africa. There is also limited awareness of Mauritian products such as “antioxidant” and “low GI” sugars. These sugars are beneficial for people concerned about health and beauty. On the Mauritian side, there is a lingering belief that Chinese products are cheap but of poor quality, despite the many options available in terms of quality and price. Furthermore, the latest scientific and technological advancements in China are not fully utilized in cooperation with Mauritius in areas such as space, ocean, environment, and renewable energy. That said, both the embassy and the press still have a lot of work to do.
What are the latest developments regarding the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)?
This year, we are celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). A summit meeting of BRI participant countries will take place in Beijing this October under the Chinese presidency. In the past 10 years, this initiative has achieved results that have garnered worldwide attention and has attracted the participation of 152 countries and 32 international organizations, including the United Nations and the African Union. It has seen investments in 3,000 infrastructure projects totaling $1 trillion, created employment for 420,000 people, lifted 40 million people out of poverty, and established connectivity through highways, railways, and seaports for countries in Asia and Africa.
The reason so many countries and organizations are part of this initiative is that the BRI is a platform for cooperation and not a geopolitical tool. No country imposes its political model or conditions, and no one is forced to choose sides. No member places itself above others, and there is no interference in internal affairs for any reason. We adhere to the principle of “Three Commons”: common consultations, common constructions, and common benefits. All participants enjoy equal and common rights and interests.
The goal of the BRI is simple: make the pie larger, and then everyone gets a larger share. In other words, it promotes win-win cooperation. The idea of the BRI aligns with an ancient concept from Chinese philosophy: “A single flower does not make spring; a hundred flowers make a spring garden.” In a world facing so many challenges and difficulties, isn’t it essential for developing countries to unite closely to build a fairer and more equitable order and a more open and inclusive economy together?
In some Western circles, there is constant talk of the BRI burdening participating countries with debt. Others are trying to launch their initiatives to “counterbalance” the BRI. It’s a positive development if more wealthy countries propose constructive ideas and invest as much as possible to help poorer countries. The latter need concrete development projects instead of empty and useless discussions. As for debt, only the countries concerned know the actual situation. According to World Bank statistics, China’s public debt accounts for only 12% of African debt, while debts from Western countries, especially Western financial institutions, make up 35%. According to the World Bank, in the next 7 years, middle and low-income countries will have to pay $940 billion in debt and interest. 67% will go to international institutions and Western creditors, while only 14% will go to the Chinese government and institutions.
In conclusion, the willingness of all member countries and organizations of the BRI to continue this mechanism after 10 years of successful experience is to coordinate development strategies, consolidate industrial and supply chains, promote trade and investment, and facilitate connectivity. The idea of win-win cooperation has become even more important at this time.