by Matthew Rusling
WASHINGTON, April 22 (Xinhua) -- A major Chinese shoe manufacturer, Hua Jian, started a factory in Ethiopia just a few months ago, with a plan to invest 2 billion U.S. dollars and create 100,000 local jobs over the next decade.
"We want Ethiopian employees who came from poor backgrounds to use the company as a platform to fulfill their dreams and to help them out of poverty," said Helen Hai, vice president of Hua Jian Industrial Holdings, during a panel discussion here on Saturday at the Spring Meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.
Many of the company's workers in China came from poor backgrounds, harboring similar humble and grateful feelings with its African workers, she said.
Hua Jian broke ground in 1984 with only a handful of workers and a few sewing machines. Over the past years, the company has become one of the largest shoemakers in China, with 25,000 employees producing 20 million pairs of shoes annually.
Meanwhile, economic ties between China and Africa have also boomed over the past years.
China is the largest trade partner of Africa. In 2011, the trade volume between China and Africa reached 160 billion U.S. dollars, representing a 30-percent increase year on year.
Experts said Africa holds possibilities for entrepreneurs from China amid rising labor costs for Chinese workers. On average, the African workers cost one-fifth of the price of their Chinese counterparts. The continent also has the youngest and fastest growing population in the world.
"Africa's opportunity is now," said Obiageli Ezekwesili, the World Bank's vice president for the Africa Region. "With rising labor costs in China and other East Asian countries, many of the jobs will be moving abroad."
However, there are some hurdles to bring job growth to Africa, including corruption, lack of infrastructure and supply chain and logistics issues.