The recent import restriction by Zimbabwe was under discussion at a bilateral meeting of officials from the ministry of Industry and Commerce and their South African counterparts last week.
BY NDAMU SANDU
Early this month, Zimbabwe removed many products from the Open General Import Licence, saying importation of such products would now require permits. The import licence costs $30 per quarter and is given only after one has managed to satisfy authorities why those products should be brought into the country.
The move has unnerved the South African government and its Department of Trade and Industry has warned that such restrictions would have negative implications on intra-regional trade.
Industry and Commerce minister Mike Bimha told Standardbusiness last week that Zimbabwean and South African officials met for a “routine meeting” on Wednesday to discuss bilateral issues and Zimbabwe explained the reason behind the promulgation of Statutory Instrument (SI) 64 of 2016.
He said his ministry impressed upon their South African counterparts that the restrictions were necessary to grow the local manufacturing sector.
“It’s not a big issue; they have to understand that we are simply taking back our jobs,” Bimha said.
He said local manufacturers were affected by economic sanctions, which made local banks unable to offer lines of credit for retooling. Bimha said the use of obsolete equipment made local products uncompetitive on the regional market.
He said South Africa also had restrictions on pharmaceutical products and said Zimbabwe would begin discussions with its neighbours for the restriction to be lifted.
“South Africa has a requirement that pharmaceutical products have to come by air and not road transport. The moment you use air, costs are higher and your products are uncompetitive. When pharmaceutical products from South Africa come here, they use road, which is cheaper,” Bimha said.
“I have asked Health minister David Parirenyatwa to speak to his South African counterpart to look into the matter.”
The “ban” has sparked disquiet among cross-border traders. The International Cross Border Traders Association has since given government one week to reverse the ban or face more riots at the Beitbridge Border Post.
International Cross Border Traders Association president Dennis Juru was last week quoted by broadcaster eNCA warning government that he would mobilise cross-border traders to shut down the busiest point of entry into Zimbabwe.
Bimha said Zimbabwe was doing the right thing to boost local industries. He said if local manufacturers failed to meet demand, imports would be allowed.
“Some of the cross-border traders are buying on credit and can pay after 90-days or so. How do you promote cross-border traders of other countries if you are not benefitting?”
Government has said it would allow the importation of products that had been procured before the promulgation of restrictions but were still stuck at the border.
The goods included stocks of wheelbarrows so many they would last for years. This, Bimha said, showed that cross-border traders could have been alerted by ministry staffers of the impending ban.
Goods that have been removed from the open general import licence and now require a permit to be brought into the country include coffee creamers (Cremora), camphor creams, white petroleum jellies and body creams.
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 on the list of the 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 that are popular with women were also covered by the Statutory Instrument.
Government later altered the policy to allow individuals to bring into the country goods for personal consumption in small quantities once a month. The move was described as a mockery to Zimbabweans.