By Admire Kudita
The Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) – considered a barometer of the health of the economy – is showing signs of recovery after years in the doldrums due to prolonged economic problems, a senior official of the body has said.
“We have 800 paying delegates at the conference this year which is a record for the conference,” ZITF chairperson Ruth Ncube told the Zimbabwe Independent at the event this week.
Ncube said the conference is an “engagement platform for dialogue and linkages aimed at building business ecosystems that speak to each other”, hence good subscription to this year’s event.
On Tuesday hundreds of foreign and local business executives, political leaders and diplomats thronged the prestigious annual ZITF conference at Hall Number 2 to listen to presentations from a panel of speakers which included Zimbabwe’s Vice-President retired General Constantino Chiwenga, the European Union representative Thomas Opperer who stood in for EU ambassador to Zimbabwe Phillipe van Damme, Special Economic Zones board representative Busisa Moyo, and African Development Bank’s principal country economist Walter Odero, among others.
The conference, whose theme was Sustainable Industrial Development, saw a number of presentations on a range of topics including ‘Transforming Zimbabwe into a competitive economy: The African Development Bank’s perspective’, ‘Special Economic Zones as a springboard for Industrial Development in Zimbabwe’ and ‘National Branding: A Key Strategy for implementing the new Economic order in Zimbabwe’.
After Chiwenga’s speech, the floor was opened for delegates to raise questions. The queries touched on a range of issues regarding government’s economic policy and business environment.
Asked by the Independent about beneficiation which he had not addressed in his presentation, Chiwenga said government remains engaged on the issue. He said Nkayi, for instance, is now being earmarked as a gold production area as part of the cluster development model, while stressing government’s commitment to beneficiation. “After producing the gold then we can begin to make jewellery which we can then sell as chains and watches,” he said.
Zimbabwe lags behind on beneficiation.
The Royal Bafokeng example in the North West province of South Africa is a model that could be followed by government. In 2011 the then minister of Youth and Indigenisation Saviour Kasukuwere led a 20-member delegation to South Africa to study the Royal Bafokeng model.
The momentum, however, petered out over time, with the abortive Community Share Ownership Scheme initiatives getting entangled in politics and corruption.
Economists say beneficiation should be more about maximising the socio- economic benefits from the country’s mining sector in terms of employment, economic growth, multiplier effects in related industries, taxes accrued and socioeconomic developments.
They say the upstream and downstream linkages in the mining value chain should be developed, including mining supply industries, inputs involved in the extraction and processing of the minerals, the application of these minerals to downstream businesses, as well as the spin-offs.
During the conference, Moyo, who is also the chief executive of United Refineries, spoke about Special Economic Zones (SEZs), saying they would specifically be delineated duty-free enclaves deemed to be foreign territory for the purposes of trade operations, duties and tariffs.
Moyo told the Independent: “There is the east industrial zone in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia). It’s a massive zone. I picked that one because it’s in Africa,” he said. “It’s multi-purpose because it doesn’t focus on a certain cluster, but it’s very strong on electronics and on leather as well. Another one is Nantong in China, strong on textiles. Malaysia also developed special economic zones where it produces certain things; they are then taken to China and valued in China. So they twinned two economic zones.”
In his responses to delegates’ questions, Chiwenga said government was pushing to remove bureaucratic obstacles currently hampering business in the country by creating a one-stop-shop system in which investors will receive services under one roof.
“There are reforms that are being done as we speak,” Chiwenga said.
Another delegate Chipo Mandela, a player in the tourism sector, highlighted unnecessary delays tourists face in the country’s ports of entry such as Kazungula and Beitbridge.
To resolve of these problems, Moyo suggested quarterly consultative interfaces between government, business and economic ministries, an idea which Chiwenga readily accepted.