The Zimbabwean ministry of industry and commerce says importers into the country are permitted to trade, but it is crucial that they first apply for import licences.
Speaking to The Citizen, Industry and Commerce Minister Mike Bimha said the control of the import of goods as per the Statutory Instrument 64 of 2016 was not a ban, as reported by the media. He said it was rather intended to regulate the import of certain goods.
Bimha said the move was to encourage people to support local businesses and promote the production of goods within Zimbabwe, leading to the creation of job opportunities.
In what was believed to have contributed hugely to the recent spate of riots in the country, the Zimbabwean government had reportedly banned the import of certain goods from South Africa as part of President Robert Mugabe’s plan to promote domestic trade.
The effect of the limits on trade have turned the border town of Musina into a “ghost town”, according to reports.
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However, Bimha said: “We are not banning, it’s an import regulation. If you have a licence, you can import. This does not apply to those bringing goods for personal consumption. What people bring in for individual consumption is catered for administratively by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority.
“Therefore, South African exporters are allowed to export.
“We are also calling on investors to invest in Zimbabwe. Cross-border traders who were bringing finished goods into Zimbabwe must now focus on importing the inputs required by local manufacturers.”
He said Zimbabwe was doing well in terms of goods manufacturing in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region prior to 2008, but sanctions by the West and the US had created a gap in the supply of goods, leading to “lots of imports that were allowed into the country”.
“A lot of people became cross-border traders. It carried on without control, to a point where everybody was importing everything, including many things we are making ourselves and without paying duty fees.”
Last year, SADC came up with an industrialisation strategy and roadmap adopted in Harare. It entailed the boosting of the manufacturing sector at both national and regional levels. Based on that, Bimha said the business associations in Zimbabwe carried out a survey throughout the country with the view of soliciting ideas on how best to drive the industrialisation strategy.
These associations came up with many recommendations last year – one of which was to regulate the import of certain goods.
“Government regulated a few products, including cooking oil and milk. The results were encouraging because the capacity utilisation in the milk processing and cooking sectors rose from an average of 20%, to between 80% and 100%. Because of large volumes, the manufactures of these products were able to reduce prices,” said Bimha. “Interestingly, some of the exporters of these products came to Zimbabwe and are establishing factories.”
But the list of regulated items was increased.
“We must develop our industry so we can play a significant role in the country and in the SADC region and beyond.”
He said “there was a lot of distortion of facts, and that can destroy the good relationship we have with South Africa.”
A meeting would soon be held with Bimha’s South African counterpart, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies, to discuss the regulation.
How the restriction was reversed
The general secretary of the Zimbabwe Cross-border Traders Association said the recent mayhem in Zimbabwe was due to the fact that ordinary travellers were denied entry with goods meant for personal consumption by officials.
Augustine Tawanda said, based on that, it “became a ban”.
“But after meeting with Bimha, the regulations were amended and travellers were allowed to import without applying for licences.
“It is definitely a control,” Tawanda said. “We held a meeting with the minister and the issues were explained to us: small traders need to apply for import permits before they bring goods into the country.”
Tawanda said it took three days to apply for a licence, but was concerned that normally took longer with government. Nestle South Africa spokesperson Ravi Pillay said they always complied with applicable laws wherever they operated.
“We have been operating in South Africa for 100 years and in Zimbabwe for 57 years, offering nutritious products to consumers in both countries,” Pillay said. “Only one product, a coffee creamer, appears on the Statutory Instrument 64 issued this year. We manufacture this brand in both countries.”
A spokesperson for a South African-based major retail company, who wished to remain anonymous, said “the minister is right, this was not a ban – it was a regulation control of goods”.