THE 45th edition of the Z
imbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) that ended in Bulawayo last week on Saturday acutely dramatised Zimbabwe’s shrinking economy because of flawed policies, although it recorded a couple of firsts since it was launched in the 1960s.
For the first time in the history of the fair, two donkeys were exhibited in the livestock section of the Bulawayo Agricultural Show that runs concurrently with the ZITF.
Also this year the trade fair had to run without a chairman because the incumbent, Dr Mthuli Ncube, who is alleged to be on the run from the law, could not attend.
This year again the trade fair scored a first by winding up business on a Saturday instead of Sunday when it traditionally ends. Scores of children who flocked to the showgrounds to view the stands on Sunday were turned away.
Economists have described this year’s trade fair as a non-event owing to the depressed economy.
“This year’s trade fair was a sad event if you compare it with previous editions of the showcase,” said Harare-based economist, John Robertson. “What has worsened this year’s event is that it was held in a depressed economy. As a result the range of products on display has been cut back due to company closures and a shrinking customer base.”
He said the situation was exacerbated by the foreign currency exchange rate, which he said worked against the interests of exporters.
“We have problems with the exchange rate which has made it difficult for exporters to exhibit under the prevailing conditions.
“As long as things remain this way there will be nothing to show at ZITF. Until we realise that all our economic problems have a political connection and we change, there will be no improvement,” Robertson said.
The stands that usually house big companies were empty this year. A total of 662 exhibitors, most of them small to medium-scale enterprises and informal traders, took part at the fair that was officially opened by Namibian President Sam Nujoma.
The number of exhibitors was less than that for last year when 734 companies took part.
ZITF markerting and public relations manager, Cecilia Bhebhe, could not provide details on any deals clinched at the trade fair. Instead she accused the Zimbabwe Independent and its sister paper, The Standard, of writing negative stories about ZITF.
“There is no story that I will give you but the companies that exhibited here are very happy because they had good business. Zimbabweans are very happy about that,” Bhebhe said.
Matabeleland Chamber of Industries president, Felix Tshuma, only promised to provide details once his office had gone over the details of transactions.
The livestock section this year attracted 16 cattle and two donkeys as new farmers failed to take advantage of the return of the livestock show.
Prize bulls that used to attract crowds in the past were nowhere to be seen while a few cows belonging to the Agricultural Research and Extension Services held fort at the Bulawayo Agricultural Show stand.
Halls 2, 2A and Hall 3 that traditionally house international exhibitors were closed.
Eleven countries took part at ZITF 2004. They included Botswana, Malawi, Kenya, Italy, South Africa, Mozambique, Nigeria, China and Austria.
The products exhibited at this year’s fair were mainly in the services sector and traditional heavy and industrial machinery displayed by foreign exhibitors was missing.
Prominent exhibition stands were mainly for government departments, educational and tuition centres taking advantage of large numbers of school children to advertise their services.
Technology that was on display was mainly farming and agro-based equipment that included new versions of farming tractors, peanut butter processing machines, wheat harvesting machines and grinding mills.
Bulawayo-based economist, Eric Bloch, attributed the low profile 2004 ZITF to the state of the economy. He was however optimistic that the fair would soon regain its lustre once factors impacting negatively on the economy were put right.
Bloch said no genuine exhibitor would display his products at a fair held under a distressed economy.
“No genuine foreign investor would like to exhibit in a country that has such a bad image and with this distressed economy it would be a waste of money to exhibit, hence the poor turnout by both local and international exhibitors,” Bloch said.
Bloch said ZITF 2004 was the worst in recent history.
“The trade fair was smaller in size, the majority of exhibitors were SMEs and informal traders. Compared to previous years, this is the worst ZITF. There was a conspicuous absence of industrialised countries and renowned international companies. There were no serious industrial exhibits to talk about,” he said.
Commenting on the poor turnout in the livestock section, MDC economic adviser, Eddie Cross, said the absence of former white commercial farmers was having an effect on the show.
“The commercial farmers who are supposed to support the agricultural show are not operating and there is no chance that you will get any livestock under the circumstances,” Cross said.
“This trade fair is just pathetic, but those that are keeping it alive should be commended because it would be difficult to revive it once it is allowed to close down,” said Robertson.
He said once the economy was on the right track all the missing products would return.
Bloch said the country’s economy and the ZITF were intricately linked and a knock on the one would affect the other.
“Once the monetary policy being implemented by (Reserve Bank governor Gideon) Gono achieves the desired results, the fortunes of the economy and the ZITF will improve as the two are intricately linked,” he said. One exhibitor said travelling to Bulawayo from Harare had been costly.
“The cost of transporting goods from Harare far outweighs the number of people who made enquiries on our products. The whole trade fair concept is now lost as it is now a kids’ affair,” said the exhibitor.
There were also no lavishes parties this year.