Mauritania - China Relations
China maintains a prominent and active presence in Mauritania. China is the largest destination for Mauritanian exports. As of 2009, nearly 40% of Mauritanian exports were destined for China. After France, China is the second largest importer of products into the Mauritanian market. In addition to Chinese activities in the Mauritanian commercial realm, China is actively engaged in a number of infrastructure investment projects in Mauritania.
The Chinese financed a USD 300 million expansion of the Autonomous Port of Nouakchott, a railway line linking Mauritania's third largest city of Kaedi with Nouakchott, the construction of a new Ministry of Foreign Affairs and offices for the Prime Minister. These are large and high profile projects in Mauritania.
Studies for Chinese- financed and constructed deep water port facility had been completed by 1977. Actual construction of this port, which was located approximately 10 kilometers south of the old wharf, began in early 1978. Paved access road, as well as electrical, telephone and water lines to port site, were presently under construction and will be completed in 1977. It was estimated that several hundred Chinese workers were brought in to assist in port construction. The deep water port capacity was projected to be 500,000 tons annually. The Friendship Port at Nouakchott, Mauritania in 1989 included the construction of three 10,000 DWT berths, breakwaters, sand dikes, stockyard and buildings. In 2001 groins were constructed and sand dikes were repared to protect and stabilize the coast lines in the vicinity of the port.
Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and the Chinese vice foreign minister, Zhai Jun, launched the extension project of Nouakchott Port on 26 September 2009. The project, or better known as Port of Friendship (PANPA), was built by a Chinese state company and financed by the Chinese government. It was expected to complete in 36 months. The funding was within the framework of a preferential loan of 2 billion Chinese yuan (about 295 million U.S. dollars) through the Export-Import Bank of China. The loan was refundable in 20 years, including five years of grace period, with only an interest rate of 2 percent
he project included the construction of two general cargo berths for ships up to 50,000 DWT, one oil product berth for tankers up to 10,000 DWT, associated facilites in the backup land area, and dredging & rock blasting in the water area. The project included a petroleum berth, a waterbreak point and a five-km dyke along the port to protect the infrastructure. The project was also expected to bring about a boom in the port region, including new buildings and equipment. PANPA was the second biggest Chinese-funded project in Africa, after the Tanzania-Zambia Railway built decades ago by the Chinese workers in support of African countries for freedom.
Chinese Ambassador to Mauritania Zhang Xun said the port, initially constructed between 1979 and 1986, serves as "a flagship of the cooperation between Mauritania and China." It is of great significance that the extension project coincides with the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, according to the diplomat.
Chinese aided Friendship Port, with a 900,000 tons annual handling capacity, is the biggest deepwater port, and, also the lifeline of the nation with 90% import goods entering this country from here. Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz said 21 May 2017 that Mauritania supports and stands ready to participate in the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China supports Mauritania's path of development that suits the nation's conditions, and the two countries have always understood and supported each other, citing the Chinese-aided Friendship Harbor in Nouakchott, capital of Mauritania, which has become a model for China-Africa cooperation.
A majority of the Chinese projects are financed through a combination of long-term, low-interest loans provided through the Export-Import bank of China, grants from the Chinese government and private Chinese investment. Many of the projects, such as the railway line and port, will facilitate transportation of Mauritania's natural resources, many of which are exported to the Chinese market.
The railway link between Kaedi and Mauritania is an example of the creative financing of Chinese infrastructure investments in Mauritania. About 70% of the total cost of the railway line (USD 970 million) was financed by low-interest loans from the Chinese Export-Import bank, with the remainder 30% being financed by a parastatal Mauritanian mining partner.
China also has large amounts of private investment in Mauritania. The Mauritanian government granted a private Chinese company a USD 200 million contract to equip a number of Nouakchott's neighborhoods with their first sewage systems, while China Minmetals Corporation announced that they are in the process of purchasing an iron ore mine in Mauritania. Another private Chinese company is working on the construction of a road linking the southern city of Selibaby to Kaedi. There was no roadway linking these cities, making it a challenge for the agricultural products of Selibaby to be transported to markets in Nouakchott and abroad.
China has become a particularly important trade partner for Mauritania. In meetings at the largest Mauritanian parastatal company, SNIM, which exports nearly 9 million metric tonnes of iron ore per year, the director of operations noted that because of the financial crisis, all orders of iron ore from European trade partners had been canceled, but China not only continued their purchases, but stepped in to purchase the exports that normally would be destined for Europe, making China almost the exclusive buyer of Mauritanian iron ore. Not all Chinese-Mauritanian trade endeavors have been successful. After commencing oil exploration in 2006, the China National Petroleum Corporation ceased further oil exploration activities in 2009 citing rising costs and a lack of substantive reserves.
China conducts most of their assistance programs in the form of infrastructure development, but they do have small teams of scientific researchers working with the Ministry of Fisheries and the Food Security Commission to strengthen Mauritania's capacity to produce food. China also has medical teams working throughout Mauritania in a number of humanitarian health programs. Similar to the US African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), since 2004 China maintained an agreement with Mauritania that permits duty and customs free entry of certain Mauritanian exports into the Chinese market.
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