China tipping the trade balance in Zim
Zimbabwe imported $354.5-million worth of goods from China last year, according to ZimStats, the official statistics agency, still lagging imports from traditional trade partners South Africa and the United Kingdom.
South Africa remains Zimbabwe's largest trading partner, exporting $3.207-billion worth of goods into Zimbabwe last year, followed by Britain at $1.62-billion. Imports to South Africa reached $2.674-billion, according to central bank data.
But trade with China may beat these figures within two years, according to economist Ben Ndebele.
"As more Chinese investors open shop in Zimbabwe, we are going to see them bring in more goods and equipment into the country and that will challenge the figures from current source markets in South Africa and the UK."
Zimbabwe's trade with China stood at $800-million last year, double the trade levels recorded in 2011, according to the Chinese embassy. The growth in Zimbabwean exports to China is attributable mostly to minerals, among them diamonds.
Anjin Investments, the largest of the Chinese diamond investors, invested $460-million in Zimbabwe in 2011.
Data for 2012 is not yet available.
According to statistics given by the economic and commercial office of the Chinese embassy late last year, there were about 5 000 Chinese nationals living and working in Zimbabwe. But these are only those citizens the Chinese embassy can account for.
Fifty-three Chinese companies were registered with the Chamber of Chinese Enterprises in Zimbabwe last year, with more than 1 200 Chinese employees.
Most of the companies are privately run, reflecting the fact that private Chinese citizens continue to make the trek to Zimbabwe to stake out their claim.
However, it is the large state-owned companies that hog the limelight.
Anjin involves a joint venture between China and the Zimbabwe military in the Marange diamond fields. Anjin won the most lucrative concessions in the fields in exchange for funding construction of the army's National Defence College in Harare.
Another state company, Sino-Zimbabwe, has investments in agriculture through its Sino-Cotton and also runs chrome mines along the Great Dyke mineral belt.
State-owned company Shandong Taishan Sunlight Group plans to invest up to $2-billion to develop coal mines, coal-bed methane extraction and power projects in a western province of Zimbabwe. A Sino-Zimbabwe joint-venture agreement has been signed and it has secured a coal concession of 100 000 hectares in Matabeleland North, with reserves of more than two billion tonnes of coal.
An open-cut mine is expected to be developed with a capacity of 3-billion tonnes of coal a year from the project.
The construction of a 600MW/h coal-fired thermal power plant is scheduled for commissioning in 2015. The project is also expected to have a coking coal plant with production of 300 000 tonnes of coke annually.
China Development Bank last year reported that it planned $10-billion worth of investment in Zimbabwe over the next five years, and Chinese merchant Sinotex is involved in a $500-million cotton-production deal with more than 300 000 rural farmers.