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Chinese dominance worries Nigeria’s textile traders

KANO, Nigeria, May 24 – Nafiu Badaru, a junior civil servant in northern Nigeria’s biggest city Kano, doesn’t make much money and it takes some cash to look good so he tends to buy made-in-China fabric.

“A piece of high-quality brocade (cloth) costs around 10,000 naira ($50, 47 euros), which is way too expensive for me,” he told AFP.

“With the same amount of money I can buy six pieces of cheap Chinese brocade which cost only 1,500 naira a piece and still keep some change.”

The proliferation of Chinese-made textiles is a boon for consumers like Nafiu, with Kano and the wider north struggling with unemployment and economic constraints.

But traders in the city — a centre of weaving and textile manufacturing dating back centuries — say such cheaper imports have been disastrous.

Factories have shut and trade in home-spun fabrics has dwindled, prompting calls for foreign investment within Nigeria rather than cheap, mass importation, as well as better regulation.

Fatuhu Gambo’s business is one of many in dire straits. For the past two weeks he has not sold a single fabric in his shop in the Kantin Kwari textile market — the largest in West Africa.

“The Chinese have effectively edged us out of business, leaving us with nothing but huge debts and heaps of goods in our shops,” he said.

Talk in the market — a colourful rabbit’s warren of shops and stalls that draws traders from Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon to Mali and the Central African Republic — is of unfair competition.

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“The Chinese have taken over the importation and distribution of textiles in Kano and now they are into retail trading, which is putting our traders out of business,” said traders’ union head Liti Kulkul.

– Protests, crackdowns –

The troubles began a decade ago when Chinese textile merchants started the massive importation of textiles to Nigeria after Africa’s most populous nation opened its doors to foreign trade.

The World Trade Organization deal gave the Chinese unfettered access to Nigeria’s textile market, although Nigerian laws prohibit foreigners from retail trading.

Traders talk of locals being recruited to conduct business on behalf of the Chinese in return for a cut of the profits.

There have been occasional crackdowns, like in May 2012, when immigration officials arrested and deported 45 Chinese nationals over retail trading after repeated complaints.

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