Flour imports now a threat to local industry — grain millers

Gamma   Mudarikiri

GRAIN Millers Association of  Zimbabwe (GMAZ) is lobbying   government to review customs duty on imported wheat flour upwards in order to protect local wheat agro processing,  farming and milling companies  from extinction.
GMAZ chairperson Tafadzwa  Musarara said the waiver on wheat flour imports to mitigate the shortage of flour in the country prior to dollarisation was no longer necessary as the milling industry had managed to reposition itself to  secure  adequate wheat stocks.
He said the continued importation  of wheat flour when local companies now had capacity to provide  the market  was  a serious  threat to the  industry and had to be addressed  without delay.
“We respectfully urge authorities to rein in on these imports as  soon as possible  through  customs  reviews,  and  should  the  custom duties be reviewed downwards, the milling industry commits  that  it  will not increase its prices  of  wheat  flour, other things remaining equal.”
Finance minister Tendai Biti, however, said government would not  do anything  that will negatively  affect the availability of flour in the  country or increase the price of the   product.
“Millers have the right to talk about upward review of custom  duty on wheat flour, but as government, we will not take any action  that  will prejudice  the availability or the price of flour in the  country,” said  Biti.
Biti said the issue of taxes would be clarified when he presents his mid-term budget review early next month.
Zimbabwe imported 45 million kg of wheat valued at US$27 million between January 1 and May 5, 2012, Musarara said. This follows government’s failure to raise US$20 million for this winter wheat season.
He said the country  consumed 25 000 metric tonnes per month while private silos were holding 98 000 metric tonnes, translating  to four  months cover of bread flour.
He added that if local wheat were added to silos, the country would  have six  months’  wheat  supply  and this could be  increased to 12  months’ cover, meaning that local millers could adequately supply  the local market.

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