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Fri, Sep 24, 2004 - Page 12 News List

Chinese traders shake up Moroccan vendors

AFP , CASABLANCA, MOROCCO

Chinese wholesalers have set up shop in the Moroccan port of Casablanca, causing a wave of panic among local traders fearful of competition.

"Chinese wholesale centre," reads a sign in Arabic, French and Chinese at one Chinese trader's shop.

"I don't speak English and French very well, and Arabic is difficult," said Lin Xue-yun, 32, who manages a shop selling mirrors, sandals, shoes, chessboards and electronic toys.

Language is the main obstacle for her and her compatriots who arrive unable to converse in Morocco's main languages, Arabic and French. Moroccan nationals are employed in an intermediary role in their shops.

"I've only been here for four months," Lin said. "I have an 11-year-old son I left in Fujian," the province most wholesalers originate from.

"Watch out, the Chinese are landing!" headlined the daily newspaper Aujourd'hui Le Maroc last week, saying "an army of Chinese businessmen (estimated at 1,200) has decamped in the kingdom's main towns and villages."

"Business in Casa is good," said Yen Tieh, 39, in halting English, a sxi-months resident in Morocco.

Ghita, 21, a Moroccan employed in a Chinese shop in Derb Omar, the bustling trading area of Casablanca, said she was happy working where she was. "We sell sandals, photo and picture frames, and small gifts," she said, adding that her wages were "very satisfying."

But Nadia, writing out a bill on the counter of her neighboring shop, railed against the Chinese influx, claiming the new traders had "destroyed the economy and job market" in Casablanca.

"The product for which I pay 25 dirhams in duty, they sell at 10 dirhams. They could sell sandals for only 18 dirhams (US$1.95)."

"Their products are of a very bad quality," Nadia said, adding that some Chinese traders were going "door-to-door, suitcase in hand."

Salah, a fellow Moroccan worker in Derb Omar, added: "I've seen them unload their own container at Casablanca port."

The Moroccan association for game importers says Chinese traders are engaged in "unfair and anti-competitive practices."

In a recent statement, the association said it wanted to "sound the alarm bell."

Shop manager Fatima Lmoussi, however, disagrees: "Trade is open to all. The arrival of the Chinese is even positive, because it creates a business dynamic."

According to one taxi driver, the Chinese came across as "nice, extremely polite, and they pay the Moroccans they employ very well."

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