HomeBusiness DigestGovt in climbdown on bilateral agreements

Govt in climbdown on bilateral agreements

Augustine Mukaro

GOVERNEMENT has agreed to uphold Bilateral Investments Promotion and Protection Agreements (Bippas) which were violated during the emotive land reform programme.

NT face=”Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif”>Presenting the 2006 budget yesterday, Finance minister Herbert Murerwa said government would honour obligations and pay compensation for all Bippas it has ratified.

“Where Zimbabwe has ratified Bippas, government is committed to honouring all its commitments and obligations as provided for by the constitution,” Murerwa said. “This includes payment of compensation for the Bippa-related farms that were acquired for resettlement.”

Murerwa said government recognises the indispensable need to nurture and preserve an investor-friendly business environment.

“Government is actively laying the foundation for stronger business relations between Zimbabwe and its regional and international cooperating partners.

“Bippas have a significant bearing on the ability of the country to mobilise financial and material resources from other countries for the much needed foreign direct investment,” he said.

Analysts said government’s climb down was due to pressure from Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono and the business community who have called for the respect of bilateral, as well as multilateral international investment agreements for the revival of the economy.

Since the inception of the land reform programme in 2000 government has been ignoring violations of Bippas agreements. It has also ignored calls by European Union diplomats and the Commercial Farmers Union to urgently delist Bippa protected properties critical for the survival of the economy.

Government has also ignored a report by Special Affairs minister for Lands, Land Reform and Resettlement John Nkomo, urging the state to avoid seizing land protected by international accords after big German-linked timber company as well as sugar and citrus estates were listed.

Zimbabwe has Bippas with several EU countries, four of them ratified by President Robert Mugabe. The trade pacts compel the government to protect the investments and properties of other countries from arbitrary expropriation.

The worst affected country is South Africa which had over 200 farmers throughout the country. The farmers have made numerous representations to their government without success.

Expropriation of properties owned by South Africans is still continuing in the southeastern Lowveld where sugar estates are under threat.

HippoValley and Triangle Sugar Estates, protected by the Hippo Valley Act and the South African Bippa, face siezure.

An estimated 70 Dutch farmers in the country have lost their properties in the ongoing land reform programme despite the fact that all of them fall under a ratified Bippa, which came into force in 1996.

Government also allowed the seizure of Border Timbers in violation of an agreement between Zimbabwe and Germany. The Germany-Zimbabwe Investment Protection Agreement signed in 1995 by representatives of both governments was meant to protect Border Timbers’ properties and assets from arbitrary seizure.

In terms of the agreement, Zimbabwe gave assurances to Germany that Border Timbers’ land would not be targeted for seizure.

In addition to the timber plantations, the government has also taken over Aberfoyle Estates, a major tea exporter and Eastern Highlands Plantations, one of Zimbabwe’s few producers of washed Arabic coffee.

The country’s biggest mixed cropping venture, Highbury Estate, that is protected under Zimbabwe-Belgium Bippa agreement, has not been spared.

Highbury has been producing wheat, tobacco, maize, citrus and cattle. The estate is owned by Zimcor Ltd, a subsidiary of Conafex SA. Conafex is listed on the London, Luxemburg and South African stock exchanges.

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