30 Aug 2013

Fears Chinese will drive ni-Vanuatu shop owners out of retail sector

5:24 pm on 30 August 2013

There are fears ni-Vanuatu shop owners in Port Vila will be driven out of the retail and wholesale sector as a result of tough competition from a growing Chinese population.

Over the past two decades, waves of Chinese immigrants have stepped foot in Vanuatu, searching for ways to make money and create a better life.

Beverley Tse looked into the effect they are having.

Although Chinese people have lived in Vanuatu for generations, resentment is growing towards the more recent arrivals from China, nicknamed the 'new Chinese'. A ni-Vanuatu shopkeeper, Jeosephat Lo'au, says in the past five to six years he has seen a surge in new Chinese people setting up retail and wholesale stores in Port Vila. He says this has driven up competition for existing businesses.

"JEOSEPHAT LO'AU: Chinese, they operate through their networks somehow that we cannot really compete with them. They get their stuff from probably direct from China and they fill up their shop very well. Their arrangements just makes it that we cannot see how we can compete to their level of running the retail shops around this area."

But a lack of space in the town centre means the new Chinese are spilling into suburbs and remote places. Johnson Vatu, who owns a general retail store in Tagabe, says he was forced to give up his first shop because a Chinese businessman was able to pay more rent for the property. He says he set up a second store but can't compete because new Chinese retailers can import better goods and sell them at a low price.

JOHNSON VATU: At the moment I try to look at furniture and all these. I do furniture, the furniture sale, because we cannot compete with all these things, there are too many Chinese.

The influx of new Chinese hasn't just raised the bar for ni-Vanuatu shop owners. Ferdinand Wong, who runs a bakery, arrived in Vanuatu more than 40 years ago from Tahiti and says Chinese people like himself, are also finding competition tough.

CantoneseTranslation: There's an analogy whereby back in the day one bowl of rice fed one person. Now Port Vila has remained the same size. The bowl of rice is still the same, but now there's more than ten people fighting over it. The portion is not enough to feed them all, therefore when they eat, they don't get full.

But aside from the stiff competition, these shop keepers and many others admit the new Chinese have brought with them some benefits. The Chairman of the Port Vila Chinese Club, Jean-Baptiste Leong, says the benefits include better infrastructure and a greater selection of products.

JEAN-BAPTISTE LEONG: It's good because they invest a lot in the country, you know. Make a big house, big shop. I think maybe it's good for the country.

But Jeosephat Lo'au and Johnson Vatu have joined a chorus of other ni-Vanuatu business people who want the government to look at protecting ni-Vanuatu retailers.

JEOSEPHAT LO'AU: I think if government does not come up with any policy to place in some restriction in some area to say no more go any further than [Port] Vila town, if they don't come up with any such policy, we will find that these Chinese will be everywhere.

Jeosephat Lo'au warns that ni-Vanuatu landowners must also be careful when they lease their land to foreign investors out of fear they may lose it.