By Nqobani Ndlovu
Zimbabwe’s premier trade showcase is turning out to be a pointless ritual where the real business of the expo of ensuring trade and investment deals are signed is overshadowed by the amount of exhibition space taken.
The Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC) said there is nothing to celebrate about this year’s Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) despite claims exhibition space surpassed the 110% mark.
According to ZITF Company board chairperson Ruth Ncube, this year’s ZITF was overly subscribed and a huge success as seen by the number of exhibitors, some of whom were forced to mount displays outside the pavilion halls.
However, ZNCC Matabeleland chapter chairperson Golden Muoni said the expo was now more of a pointless ritual than a business platform.
“We can have as many exhibitors, but if that does not translate into transactions it becomes a useless affair. As long as we are talking about exhibition space taken it does not mean anything. There is nothing to celebrate about this year’s trade fair as it has just become tradition. It’s just the same yesterday, today and forever,” Muone said.
“The fair must translate into business and what benefits will be driven out of those companies exhibiting. It has to be translated into transactions. We need to ask how many deals have been sealed and contracts signed. We are yet to see statistics of transactions of contracts which have been signed, and the number of deals we have managed to clinch.”
In previous years, the multi-sectoral and multi-national expo resembled a large flea market selling poor quality products, but Ncube said this year the showcase was a success in quantitative and qualitative terms.
A survey by the Zimbabwe Independent, however, showed that some exhibitors were selling their products — although the practice was banned by organisers.
Running under the theme “Sustainable Industrial Development – Inclusive, Competitive, Collaborative”, the showcase was officially opened by President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
South Africa – the country’s largest trading partner – did not exhibit.
In 2016, the South African government’s Department of Trade and Industry (Dti) said it secured 431 trade leads while 21 Zimbabwean agents were appointed, showing the scale of the loss Zimbabwe could suffer due to its lack of participation.
The Dti also said it had recorded export sales of R10 million during the trade fair period.
ZITF was attended by foreign exhibitors and buyers from countries across the world including Botswana, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria and Zambia.
China, Cyprus, Germany, Ghana, India, Namibia, Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates were represented.
As in previous years, a big number of Bulawayo companies did not participate at this edition of the trade fair.
Bulawayo – once termed the industrial hub of the country – has suffered serious de-industrialisation as companies either downsized operations, relocated to the capital or closed shop altogether.
Analysts say ZITF needs to be reinvented and innovative.
“Trade fair is very relevant in terms of trade developments but it has had limited benefits to the Bulawayo industries as witnessed by minimal participation of Bulawayo companies over the years at trade fair,” said Bulawayo-based economic commentator Reginald Shoko, adding the ZITF has deteriorated in terms of the mix and quality of exhibitors, in sync with the economy.
“ZITF must facilitate industry revival through promotion of Bulawayo enterprises beyond the traditional trade fair days and also create incubation of Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in its vast space which is mainly underutilised after the fair. In terms of Bulawayo industry revival, ZITF can still do more.”
Struggling parastatals such as the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ), Grain Marketing Board (GMB) and Hwange Colliery Company (HCC) maintained a strong presence, like they have done in previous years.
However, the fair holds its own when it comes to meeting industry expectations in terms of conferences as several of them were held but the ZNCC said these were also becoming useless talk shows.
“That is one of the dilemmas of this country where there is a lot of talking, production of position papers and blueprints that does not translate into action. We need also try to have that paradigm shift in terms of how we approach business because we are very good in producing good documents, but zero in terms of translating that into action,” the ZNCC Matabeleland chapter chairperson said.
“What should be done is to meet regularly after those conferences, to make follow-ups on resolutions agreed upon to measure the relevance of having these conferences. We need to keep on talking.”
Shoko added: “The business conferences have been talk shows in the past, but at least this year was different in that it came up with a resolution to make agreed follow-ups and reviews of engagement between government and the private sector. If not, then we must not waste resources organising such.”
Ncube said the ZITF had big plans going forward.
“We are envisaging expanding our capacity to build integrated infrastructure to offer a wide range of versatile sophisticated and modernised conference facilities, including 8 000-seater convention centre to cater for meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions in Bulawayo to match and compete with other such centres in the region,” Ncube said.
“You will be aware of Durban exhibition and Cape Town convention centre and the Kigali conference centre just to name but a few and to build a five-star hotel. The drive is to modernise and enhance capacity utilisation of the exhibition centre and to position the city of Bulawayo as a meetings, incentives conferences and exhibitions destination.”