Following years of prolonged political squabbles in the country that took toll on the economy, several industries failed to retool as production levels waned while others shut down.
The inception of the inclusive government in February 2009 and commensurate economic stability led to the slow recovery of the manufacturing sector while capacity utilisation levels increased marginally.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Regional Integration and International Cooperation, Tadeus Chifamba, said the country has requested for a recovery period of between two to three years, which should be sufficient for local industry to make progress.
“We have since requested for derogation on tariff increases. Most countries have been very understanding in this regard, and fortunately there is room for negotiation in this trade forum. Our reasons are legitimate considering the economic challenges we have faced,” he said.
“There is already a programme in place to eliminate restrictive tariffs.”
Chifamba said the local business sector needs to note that 80% of tradable goods were already duty free, save for the remaining 20% which are listed as sensitive products. He said government was committed to expediting the free movement of business persons across borders as Zimbabwe is already a signatory to the Sadc protocol on trade.
However, many haulage trucks continue to spend weeks at border posts within the Sadc region to comply with costly and time-consuming customs procedures. He said the only delay was due to the fact that a few member states had not yet ratified the agreement. “Besides the three pillars pertaining to the free trade area agreed on last year, there are parallel negotiations that are ongoing in terms of facilitating the free movement of business persons across borders,” he said.
“The biggest impediment for Zimbabwean business in the regional arena has been that of capacity utilisation. Zimbabwe was once one of the strongest economies in terms of industrial output but the economic problems of the past decade affected the country. This situation has affected our competitive edge in terms of the cost of production.”
Trade in goods and services, as well as the enhancement of cross-border investments, are key areas of collaboration among Sadc members.
It is envisaged that, should the ratification of the trade protocols take place, all existing forms of non-tariff barriers such as import licensing requirements and quantitative restrictions, shall be removed and trade documents and procedures in the member states of Sadc would be harmonised.
Member states will also be allowed to enter new trade-related arrangements. Economist Eric Bloch contends that only until such a time that the local manufacturing sector becomes competitive can Zimbabwe fully realise the benefits of regional integration that other member states are enjoying.
“The problem isn’t about the regional arrangements in place. We need to sort out our own economy in order for the manufacturing sector to produce competitively priced goods,” Bloch said.