17 March 2017

Zimbabwe: Cut Imports, Promote Local Production

editorial

News of rampant smuggling of goods through the country's borders, especially between Zimbabwe and South Africa and Mozambique is disturbing.

But it is known that this economic sabotage takes place also through borders with Zambia and Botswana. This is a cancer which every patriotic Zimbabwean should combat. But that is not always the case.

As we reported earlier this week, there are law enforcement agents who have been found to be aiding smugglers using makeshift boats across the Limpopo River on the border with South Africa.

Those who use Beitbridge Border Post, Chirundu and Nyamapanda often rely on cross border buses or haulage trucks.

Once in a while alert, honest Zimra officials have been able to intercept these truckers trying to smuggle out export brand cigarettes. But rampant cases mainly involve imports of second hand clothes, hair products, skin creams, illicit drugs and even finished food products, most of which can be produced locally.

These imports are facilitated by smuggling out scarce foreign currency which should be reserved for productive sectors of the economy or critical imports such as drugs and fuel.

This is costly to the nation in terms of revenue, and destructive to the productive sector which is still trying to find its feet since the destruction caused by ESAP.

The biggest challenge we face as a nation is that we are sorely divided on political lines to justify the destruction of our own economy. One of the justifications for rampant smuggling is either that local products are too expensive or they are of inferior quality.

What we are yet to appreciate as a nation is that no country has ever prospered through imports which are not matched or, better still, surpassed by exports. To be able to do that, industry and companies must be able to produce quality products.

That might take time to achieve, but it must be the ultimate objective. There is need for commitment and sacrifice across the board, producers and consumers.

For that to happen, consumers must tame their palates. It is self-destructive to obsess about the quality of products which you can't produce. At the same time, it is unhelpful for consumers to expect companies which are still retooling to produce top notch finished goods, and opt to punish them by buying foreign manufactured products.

That is when freedom of choice becomes counter-productive in the extreme.

When Government last year introduced Statutory Instrument 64 regulating the import of certain goods, the aim was not wholesale protectionism, although that is not peculiar to Zimbabwe. The aim was to give the local productive sector breathing space.

Those import controls were never meant to last forever. Zimbabwe is not an island and doesn't operate in a vacuum.

That means local companies must work with speed and improve their productive processes in line with technological advances. The saviour should not be expected to come only by way of foreign investment. It must grow at home. We need to produce. We need to export finished goods which have added value. That is our salvation.

Primary exports are not sustainable in the modern age. It must be borne in mind that technology enables countries without resources to be always on the lookout for alternatives and substitutes. We live in an age of innovation.

President Mugabe has emphasised the need for beneficiation and value-addition. That is the way the world is going. But it doesn't seem like local industrialists are keen on that route. There is more interest in commerce than production.

Worse still, those who produce want to charge extortionate prices. This has tended to distort and discredit the objectives of SI64.

Zimbabwe

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