Candid Comment: Buy Zim: Local products must measure up

Although the ostensible economic benefits of buying any locally-produced products and services helps create more income and employment, Zimbabwean companies should learn to compete on quality instead of trying to force consumers to spend their hard-earned cash on the substandard.

Some captains of industry who attended the Buy Zimbabwe Conference and Experiential Expo, which ends in Harare today, tried to guilt consumers into buying inferior locally-made products by saying imports were ballooning the country’s trade deficit. The trade deficit is about US$2,6 billion.

The Buy Zimbabwe initiative seeks to promote the consumption of locally produced goods by discouraging imports through campaigning for tariffs and other measures that would help protect local industry.

Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries president Joseph Kanyekanye urged the government to address existing liquidity problems by normalising relations with the international community to unlock lines of credit. He also felt that local companies were overpaying workers saying the resultant wages contributed to the high costs of doing business in Zimbabwe.

Others called for laws to protect local industry by forcing companies to procure a certain percentage of locally-made goods and services.

Only Employment Confederation of Zimbabwe president Anthony Mandiwanza cautioned against protection saying local industry should address the issue of productivity because the economy was producing more consumers instead of jobs. He defended consumers’ rights to retain their choice between local and imported goods.

Listening to the various contributions at the conference, one is left to conclude that companies want to rely on protectionism rather than encouraging competitive procurement by providing good products and services or a good experience.

Protectionism generally does not promote good brands but encourages substandard products and sometimes lousy service. Goods and services should not simply be bought because they are “made in Zimbabwe” even without demonstrating value.

Buy Zimbabwe indicates that the shopping baskets of a majority of Zimbabwean consumers contain 80-90% foreign goods, but why don’t those local companies clamouring for high tariffs on imported goods make it easier for consumers to identify quality local products.

Should shoppers be looking for “made in Zimbabwe” goods in shops or local companies should make it easy by producing high quality products? Patriotism is a primarily political act which doesn’t usually work when it comes to quality of goods and services. It’s true that if consumers were to purchase the majority of their products and services locally, it would help stimulate the economy and create job opportunities, but Zimbabwean companies must address the issue of limited investment which affects the quality of locally-manufactured goods.

Very little investment has been made in Zimbabwean companies yet they all expect high returns. How can they expect to make profits when they do not plough back any investment in their businesses? Obviously the quality of goods and services will not improve as long as companies fail to invest in new equipment and continue using archaic machinery inherited from the colonial era.

Yes, buying locally puts more money into the economy, but the goods and services must match the quality and cost of the product. It’s simple, if the quality of local cheese is not up to scratch, consumers will be forced to buy South African cheese.