Home Life Palestinian businesses look east to China of Yiwu
Palestinian businesses look east to China of Yiwu PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 23 November 2008 12:23

"Palestinian imports of Chinese goods are (worth) more than $2 billion through direct trade by Palestinian businessmen or through Israel," said Kayed, head of Palestinian-Chinese trade relations at the Palestinian embassy in Beijing.

Competition from cheaper Chinese goods has all but destroyed the manufacturing industry in the Palestinian territories, where the "Made in China" label is a common sight in shops.

The popular Crocs leisure shoes, made by U.S.-based Crocs Inc, sell for 280 shekels ($78) in Israel but in Hebron, the copycat Chinese-made version goes for just 13 shekels ($3.6).

For five decades, Yasser Hirbawi was the only Palestinian manufacturer of the national black-and-white keffiyeh headdress, the symbol of Palestinian nationalism worn most famously by the late leader Yasser Arafat.

Now, he wipes dust and cobwebs from an old weaving machine in his small, dark textile factory in Hebron.

"Two years ago I had to close down my factory because I couldn't compete with Chinese-made Hattas (keffiyehs) that sell for 40 percent less," said the 76-year-old, who himself wore a keffiyeh.

Hebron mayor Oseily said competition from Chinese goods coupled with Israeli restrictions had forced about 200 shoe factories to close in the city, putting 17,000 out of work.

He said more than 40 percent of people in the Hebron area were unemployed and called the 250 Israeli army roadblocks there a "huge impediment" to business.


Thousands of miles away in Yiwu, a city of 2 million people in China's eastern Zhejiang province, 30-year-old Shyoukhi had a happier tale.

"Palestinian businessmen import everything from China. I even get orders to send Chinese-made Palestinian flags and the Palestinian keffiyehs," said Shyoukhi, whose export office does business with thousands of Palestinian and Israeli merchants.

Yiwu has become a buzzing trading spot thanks to the influx of Middle Eastern money. It is now a hub for selling made-in-China Arabic products, like fashion clothing and religious artifacts.

Every Friday, buyers from Lebanon, traders from Yemen and businessmen from Egypt, gather for their weekly prayers. At wholesale markets in the city, makeshift stalls are stacked with everything from toothbrushes to belts.

Businessmen in Hebron have their business cards printed in English and Chinese, and many have even adopted Chinese names.

Professor Wilfried Vanhonacker, who taught a course "Doing Business in China" at the Kellog-Recanati School of Business in Tel Aviv in February, said Hebronites needed to adapt to globalization or see their businesses die

"Production has moved to China and it will be moving next to Vietnam. There are 1.3 billion people in China with an incredible work ethic ... This will continue," said Vanhonacker, dean of the Moscow School of Business Skolkovo and author of several books on China.

In Hebron, Shehadeh Sammouh, once a small-time merchant, now owns a large store selling Chinese shoes, clothes, toys and household goods. He sells Chinese shoes for 70 percent less than a Hebron-made shoe.

"Customers demand the goods made in China because they look better and are cheaper," Sammouh said.

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