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JOHANNESBURG - Standard Bank has launched its first dedicated branch in Africa to service the Chinese business community in South Africa.

The full-service branch in Crown Mines, Johannesburg, will be manned by staff who are fluent in both Chinese and English to service Chinese customers and everyone else.

The opening of the branch yesterday followed the launch of Standard Bank’s first Africa-China Banking Centre at its Simmonds Street headquarters in June last year.

Standard Bank said it already had more than 100 Chinese-speaking relationship managers, bankers, advisers and traders with trading floors. It said it had targeted Crown Mines as the area was home to China Mall - a busy shopping centre that attracts traders from Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia and other neighbouring countries who come to the city to buy goods.

George Lo, the executive head for Africa-China Banking at Standard Bank, said the opening of the branch was another step in the bank’s ongoing commitment to deepen and grow the Africa-China investment and trade corridor.

“We chose this area because it’s where many entrepreneurs and businessmen from neighbouring countries obtain their supplies from Chinese wholesalers.

“This model is not just about servicing the Chinese, but, importantly, also Africans looking to trade with China.

"We expect this to be the first of many opportunities to come,” Lo said.

He said estimates suggested that between 350000 and 500000 Chinese live in South Africa, largely in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban.

South Africa has been one of the continent’s top destinations for Chinese investment for years.

In 2007, China’s largest bank, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), purchased a 20percent stake in Standard Bank for $5.5billion. There is also a high demand for Chinese supplies in South Africa with about R70bn spent on Chinese imports from January to June 2013, according to the Department of Trade and Industry.

However, locals have accused the Chinese traders of causing the decline in South Africa’s own textile industry.

Sibongiseni Ngundze, the executive head for retail and business banking at Standard Bank, said the opening of the branch was a triumph for the bank’s partnership with ICBC.

“This year marks two meaningful anniversaries for South Africa’s business community and Standard Bank: the ten-year mark of Standard Bank and ICBC’s strategic co-operation, and the 20th anniversary of Sino-South African diplomatic ties,’’ Ngundze said.

- BUSINESS REPORT