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Cross-border traders cry foul over imports ban

The ministry of Industry and Commerce appears to have failed to adequately facilitate the issuance of import permits to cross-border traders three weeks after government directed that importers of a large number of products needed permits to be imported.

BY VICTORIA MTOMBA

The reasoning was to promote local industries from competition. Riotous scenes have become part of life at border posts, particularly at Beitbridge, where cross-border traders are protesting against the new measures and resultant seizure of their goods.

Three weeks ago, the ministry of Industry and Commerce issued an import ban on many products, saying the importation of the products required a permit which would be issued after satisfying authorities on the need to import banned products.

The permit costs $30 and runs for three months and is issued after one has justified the importation of the products.

Zimbabwe Cross Border Traders Association secretary general Augustine Tawanda said the ban came as an ambush and the ministry was failing to issue the documentation required by cross-border traders.

“You go to the ministry of Industry to get the proper documents and there are no people to assist you to get the documents,” he said.

“The issue of protecting industry is noble, but we have to use the strategic value chain approach. We can say instead of bringing finished products, we buy raw materials because the buying power is there,” he said.

He said there was need to sit down and discuss the list of things that can be bought instead of placing a blanket ban which would increase the prices of goods.

However, ZimTrade chief executive officer Sithembile Pilime said the recently-introduced Statutory Instrument banning imports should not affect the bringing in of products that would be processed locally.

“Raw materials or companies that manufacture to produce for the export market should not be affected by the new regulations. The ban on fabric for clothing materials could have a negative impact on clothing manufacturers because there is uncertainty on whether the local industry can supply what people need,” Pilime said.

Government introduced stringent regulations meant to control the importation of goods that are available locally under Statutory Instrument 64 of 2016.

Goods that have been removed from the general import licence and now require a permit to be brought into the country include coffee creamers, camphor creams, white petroleum jellies, body creams and fabrics.

Clothing manufacturers had expected consultations first before the ban.

“As an industry, we were surprised when SI64 was gazetted and included some fabrics on the list of goods now requiring an import licence. We had not been consulted at all and neither had the Zimbabwe Textile Manufacturers Association (Zitma). While we support measures aimed at reducing the amount of non-compliant imports, substantial consultation needs to be carried out first. We do not understand why raw materials such as fabrics would be included as they are the raw material for a key value addition sector.

We have developed a very good working relation with Zitma and we work together on developing the Cotton to clothing value chain. But neither association was formally consulted. We believe there should have been a lead time before the Statutory Instrument became effective as there were shipments already en route before the instrument was gazetted and before import permits were required. We also feel that imports of $200 or less should not be subject to import licensing as this is the limit for the personal rebate. Any such policy should only be targeting commercial trade.

“Of the fabrics classified in the Statutory Instrument, many cannot be made in this country at present, so we should not make them subject to import licensing and just increase the cost of doing business by doing so,” said Zimbabwe Clothing Manufacturers Association chairman Jeremy Youmans.

Goods categorised as builders’ ware like wheelbarrows (flat pan and concrete pan wheelbarrows), structures and parts of structures of iron or steel (bridges and bridges section, lock gates, towers, lattice masts, roofs, roofing frameworks, doors, windows and their frames and threshold for doors, shutters, balustrade, pillars and columns) and plates, rods, angles, shapes section and tubes prepared for use in structures of iron and steel ware, were also listed as restricted products.

The list also includes furniture, baked beans, potato crisps, cereals, bottled water, mayonnaise, salad cream, peanut butter, jams, maheu, canned fruits and vegetables, pizza base, yoghurts, flavoured milks, dairy juice blends, ice-creams, cultured milk and cheese.

Synthetic hair products, popular with local women, were also covered by the Statutory Instrument.

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