By Esther Nakkazi
Most Chinese goods have a bad repute in east Africa; they are counterfeits, cheap and of low standard but do compete favorably on the market as consumers believe that their quality is at par with the price.
So trade between China and east Africa continues to grow. Data from the Chinese embassy in Uganda, shows that in 2010, the total trade value between China and east Africa states was US$3.89 billion, a 40 percent increase from 2009 principally for hi-tech, electromechanical, textile and agricultural products.
And now the Chinese government says, they intend to increase this trade value, through cracking down on the production and trading of counterfeits, which are on the increase in the east African Community (EAC) market.
Already, China has imposed punitive measures on its exporters of counterfeits into the African market that are as harsh as death. And, China is counting on the EAC governments to partner with it.
“Through our joint efforts, I hope there would be no China made counterfeits in the EAC market. I also hope more highly cost effective Chinese products will be brought to the East African market for the well-being of the people here,” said Zou Xiaoming, the economic and commercial counselor at the Chinese embassy in Uganda.
To stop the counterfeits, heavy fines and death for the offenders have been imposed. For instance China says that; ‘a company found exporting counterfeits to Africa would have its illegal gains confiscated; a fine ranging from 50 percent to two times the value of the counterfeit would be imposed and it would be banned from exporting business in the future.’
Also the direct manager of the counterfeits would be charged with a criminal offence and if found guilty, sentenced to several years in prison, life imprisonment or even a death penalty according to the counterfeit value and effect caused by the counterfeits.
This move comes after increased complaints from east African states about counterfeits on the market made in China.
But to safe guard its share of the African market where Chinese investment hit $9.3 billion in 2009, China further wants to ‘safeguard African consumer rights and welfare as well as keep a good reputation of Chinese products’.
With a syndicated joint action operation running for five months in all its east African related embassies, China says the special intensive action ends this month but the mechanism to fight counterfeits would keep going forever.
But east African traders remain skeptical about China’s commitment to fight counterfeits in the region. To most of them, although east African governments have redress mechanism for Chinese exporters that are cheated, there have been no reciprocal measures by China.
“When Ugandan importers go to China and they do not pay, we have a platform for redress but the commercial division of the Chinese government is not vigilant enough to help us when we buy poor products from China,” said Issa Sekitto, the spokesperson Kampala City Traders Association (KACITA).
The resigned culture of the east African consumer, uncooperative manufacturers and the lack of governments’ vigilance and enforcement still keeps counterfeits on the EAC market, traders in Uganda said.
“China manufactures specifically for the US and Africa market. When you go to China, they sell you goods for the ‘Ugandan market’, which are of very low quality. If they are committed to stopping counterfeits they should stop them at base,” said a trader in Kampala importing Chinese cheap goods.
The counterfeits market is too big with so many lobbyists protecting it, ‘I doubt that China has the capacity to fight it. I think they want to hear what we say and capitalize on it but the can not stop counterfeits.’
Well, China, seems to be committed especially with the ‘joint effort’ it is seeking with the east African governments and its aspiration to court Africa for its raw materials.
“Recently, we paid visits to several governments and organizations, which expressed sincere willingness for cooperation. Right now, we are working on joint action mechanism arrangements, which should include information sharing, standard harmonizing, enterprises monitoring and capacity building,” said Xiaoming.
The unwillingness by east African manufacturers who remain silent and fight the counterfeits battle ‘underground’ or those that label their goods with ‘made in China’ labels also remains obscure.
“When you talk to manufacturers they remain silent because they fear it would affect their goods. China should have registered agents in the east African market to enforce their trade marks,” said Beatrice Tinka, the director communications at the Uganda Allied Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture (UACCIA).
“If we treated the problem from the source, (China) then east Africa would have reduced the problem of product production,” said Sekitto.
According to Sekitto the EAC states are not at the same level so China should stop as much as possible the products that come in the market because it is only China that has the capacity to stop counterfeits.
This was the printed version of the story: