Statutory Instrument 64 of 2016 (SI 64.2016) is not an import ban

 \r\nHon Mike Bimha\r\nStatutory Instrument 64 of 2016 regulates imports and exports, and that is what I, as Industry and Commerce Minister, superintend in terms of the Control of Goods Act. This means whenever supply and demand changes occur, Government will allow particular goods to be imported, something that happens so many times. In some instances, manufacturers encounter production breakdowns, production constraints and output declines, thereby creating supply gaps.\r\n\r\nAt other times product demand surges suddenly, and imports are certainly allowed when such things happen.\r\n\r\nThere have been questions regarding whether individuals who visit relatives or holiday across the border and return to Zimbabwe with, say, two bags of mealie-meal, need permits.\r\n\r\nThe answer is no.\r\n\r\nSI 64 focuses on goods purchased for resale, people who bring truckloads of products into the country for resale.\r\n\r\nHere, we are talking about imports of goods that are already being manufactured in Zimbabwe.\r\n\r\nThe Zimbabwe Revenue Authority has been mandated to clarify this and to tell the public what one is required to bring in without recourse to a licence.\r\n\r\nThis, in the main, relates to grocery items like cooking oil, sugar and others.\r\n\r\nIn a nutshell, the SI is not targeting goods for individual consumption.\r\n\r\nThat administrative aspect falls under Zimra’s purview, but we have written to them to ensure uniform application.\r\n\r\nThe information will be transmitted countrywide, with Zimra clarifying the quantities of goods that require a licence.\r\n\r\nFurther, there are concerns that SI 64 has adversely affected cross-border traders. Such traders constitute a component of our commercial players and there is no way we can ignore them and their role.\r\n\r\nThey didn’t emerge from the blue, we had huge shortages at one point and they seized the opportunity to become gainfully employed and to offer services.\r\n\r\nTherefore, they were not committing any crime. They were just taking advantage of an opportunity, which, really to me, is what entrepreneurship is all about.\r\n\r\nWhat we are saying now is that we need to change focus. We want them to continue playing a role because there are certain goods that we don’t produce and should thus be imported. They need our assistance regarding products that should be imported and strong relationships with those who want their services or goods.\r\n\r\nEarlier, I mentioned the supply-demand gaps that emerge time and again.\r\n\r\nThere could be a scenario where, for instance, producers supply 10 000 tonnes of a particular product and yet the demand is 12 000 tonnes. The gap in this case is 2 000 tonnes.\r\n\r\nWe will, therefore, advise (cross-border traders) of such gaps so that they source the goods in a way that contributes to the economy. This is filling a gap as opposed to bringing in excess.\r\n\r\nThere should be focus on raw materials, too. But for all this to happen, traders have to be organised. Business associations like the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries, Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce, Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers and others should also now develop linkages with cross-border traders. In the end, this SI will support not only big corporates, but small and medium enterprises and the cross-border trader.\r\n\r\nWe all have something to contribute, but need to get organised to make communication and engagement easier.\r\n\r\nThe traditional market chain of manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers has now disappeared, with certain manufacturers doing almost everything, even selling stuff to the final consumer.\r\n\r\nWe want to address that issue so that every component of the chain contributes something.\r\n\r\nLet’s go back to that structure, Government will consult business to clearly outline that division of responsibilities and roles. It is also an opportunity for big corporates to develop linkages with SMEs and to help the latter grow.\r\n\r\nThe small or medium scale player will grow over time, and that’s how we grow as an economy.\r\n\r\nIndustrialisation is driven by the private sector, even as one looks at Sadc, the African Union and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa.\r\n\r\nPrivate sector players will drive Zim-Asset, the Sadc Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap, Comesa’s Tripartite Free Trade Area and Continental Free Trade Area.\r\n\r\nWho is the private sector?\r\n\r\nIt’s the entire chain, really; from SMEs to big corporates. So, SI 64 aims to empower all these players, enabling them to stand on their own and produce goods and services arising from our abundant resources in a way that grows the economy.\r\n\r\nA developed economy benefits all of us and creates employment.\r\n\r\nIt is telling when you hear that some businesspeople across the border in Musina, South Africa, were protesting (over the Statutory Instrument).\r\n\r\nThe question is: Why were they protesting?\r\n\r\nEssentially, they were saying, “You are denying us employment and revenue. Zimbabweans, come and enrich us.”\r\nThat clearly shows that we were selling jobs and creating value elsewhere through continuous importation.\r\n\r\nTrue, the SI might have adversely affected some people, but it is never smooth-sailing in the early stages of any intervention. At the same time, we want to engage the affected and chart a way forward.\r\n\r\nGovernment has been engaging a number of stakeholders since SI 64 came on stream, and I am happy with the engagements as very useful contributions are emerging. And, of course, a local procurement policy will buttress the SI, especially as it relates to parastatals, Government and other players.\r\n\r\nIf we condition ourselves to procure (goods and services) locally, domestic manufacturers will gain confidence in the market. In turn, we will make demands on producers to meet high quality standards.\r\n\r\nAll manufacturers are encouraged to be accredited with the Standards Association of Zimbabwe to ensure their products are of high standards and quality.\r\n\r\nI have previously said – which was probably misquoted by the Press – that a number of people had already started the process of importing goods prior to SI 64.\r\n\r\nWe didn’t want to penalise them, so we wanted them to get those goods into the country.\r\n\r\nThey were, however, licenced since the Statutory Instrument requires such licencing. We said, “We will not deny you entry and ask you to justify, but give you a licence because you bought the goods prior to the announcement.”\r\nThis was much clearer to those who were already at the border or those in the system.\r\n\r\nWhat concerns me, though, is that some elements within the system perhaps operate networks across Beitbridge Border Post and are deeply involved in importation. Their links across the border already knew that SI 64 was coming well before we announced it and quickly processed goods so as to beat the coming dispensation.\r\n\r\nWe were surprised by the numbers.\r\n\r\nWhen you get someone bringing in thousands and thousands of wheelbarrows and that never used to happen, it becomes apparent that someone knew about the Statutory Instrument.\r\n\r\nTregers produces high quality wheelbarrows, and this (importing in this manner) is exactly how we are killing our jobs.\r\n\r\nOther people who recently imported goods told me that certain suppliers were advertising goods that could be supplied on 90-day credit. That had never happened before.\r\n\r\nSuch suppliers had always demanded cash payments and now wanted to push huge volumes because the SI was in the works. The point is there are genuine importers and crooks in our midst.\r\n\r\nUnfortunately, we sometimes end up painting everyone with the same brush.\r\n\r\nA number of genuine players have been into cross-border trade for a long time, and these are the people we still want to help. We are not discarding or ignoring them, they have a role to play.\r\n\r\n◆ Honourable Mike Bimha is the Minister of Industry and Commerce, and this article was taken from his conversation with Sunday Mail Reporter Africa Moyo in Harare last week.\r\n

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