The Sunday Mail
A Cabinet-appointed committee will this week swoop on retailers and wholesalers countrywide to check compliance with import controls under Statutory Instrument 64.
This follows the rampant smuggling of goods that have been struck off the general import licence to stimulate domestic manufacturing capacity.
Products such as cooking oil, cereals, soap, spaghetti, rice, flour, detergents, sugar, salt and cremers are being brought into Zimbabwe via illegal ports of entry/exit.
It is understood some retailers purchase the goods in South Africa and then ferry them across the Limpopo River in speed boats and canoes.
The consignments are loaded onto trucks at the illegal ports and transported to Harare and other urban centres where they are sold in certain shops and on the streets.
Now, authorities want to tighten import controls which saved the country US$1 billion-plus and increased industrial capacity utilisation from 34,3 percent in 2015 to 47,4 percent in 2016. Ministers Mike Bimha (Industry and Commerce) and Ignatius Chombo (Home Affairs) will lead the crack team, which will advocate penalties for offenders.
Minister Bimha told The Sunday Mail last week: “Very soon, perhaps (this week), we will visit supermarkets, retailers, wholesalers and traders in general to check if they have imported goods that were restricted under our import management initiative.
“A lot of goods that we have removed from the general import licence are still finding their way into shops and onto streets due to our porous borders. We have to deal with that.”
Minister Bimha said the import controls were “a necessary evil” tailored to pull industry back from the brink.
He said authorities in South Africa, Zimbabwe’s biggest trading partner, understood as much despite a spirited campaign from some elements there to institute “retaliatory measures”.
“The government of South Africa appreciates our situation and knows we are only regulating importation of products in a situation where it has been proven goods can be produced locally.
“We explained to them that we will continue to mobilise funding to support the recovery of areas protected under SI 64 and these measures are time-bound. They are not there forever. Two to three years is what we’re looking at.
“Despite these dialogues, there is need for continuous engagement due to unrelenting pressure from some in the private sector in South Africa for their government to ‘retaliate’ against us.”
Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries president Mr Busisa Moyo said, “We have done a good thing by bringing in SI64 as we bid to improve industrialisation. We have dialogued and are carrying out discussions on a number of policies and measures we have put in place.
“However, we have to be consistent on what we have agreed on regarding imported goods. What’s left here is the enforcement of the law.”
CZI vice-president Mr Sifelani Jabangwe added: “We are happy that industry’s capacity utilisation continues to improve. However, smuggling remains a threat to the progress we have made in a number of sectors.
“Therefore, we are strongly behind the crackdown on unscrupulous dealers. It’s a good and timely intervention which should be rolled out time and again.”
Economist Dr Gift Mugano weighed in: “We have Statutory Instrument 64 of 2016 from a legal point of view. Government should do that (crackdown) so that people comply and abide by the country’s rules and regulations.
“They have to enforce that trade regulation as the country has lost over US$30 billion since 2009. However, smuggling shows that some of the sub-sectors included in SI64 lack enough capacity to supply local industry. The cost of production should be addressed to make goods easily available as people will go for cheap imports.
“Cross-border traders should be supported heavily and encouraged to buy from local producers in order to shift their mentality towards purchasing locally-manufactured goods.
“And also, the coming Local Content Policy will go a long way in dealing with this (smuggling) problem as there will be a percentage threshold for all goods sold in the country.”
Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers president Mr Denford Mutashu said, “The crackdown is a good initiative as smuggling is a constant threat to our industry. We are supporting Industry and Commerce Minister Dr Bimha in propping up local production.
“Consumers must learn that most of these goods are sub-standard, cheap goods which don’t meet Standards Association of Zimbabwe principles and most of them are unhealthy.
“We have had a problem of indiscipline in our businesses for some time now; therefore, cracking down will do some good as far as bringing back discipline is concerned.”