A FRENCH business delegation, representing 10 companies with a combined annual turnover of US$100 billion, visited Zimbabwe recently to explore business opportunities.
Zimbabwe Independent business reporter Taurai Mangudhla (TM) interviewed Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) business council member and Dairibord Zimbabwe CEO Anthony Mandiwanza (AM) on the sidelines of a media briefing and cocktail in the capital. Below are excerpts:
TM: What are the key issues that you discussed with the French business delegation during their stay in Harare?
AM: There are three critical issues which we believe as business people in Zimbabwe will create a positive economic turnaround.
First is that the Zimbabwean economy cannot be turned around without international participation.
To that extent we fully appreciate the visit by the French business delegation and also that the delegation has been accorded the highest status of meeting His Excellency (President Robert Mugabe). It speaks from the highest level possible, sending a signal that we are warming up to the international community
TM: What are the other issues?
AM: The second issue which we highlighted was that if you were a foreigner and you were looking at Zimbabwe as a potential investment destination, what are you worried about? You are worried about the credibility of the laws and to what extent they protect your investment.
You think of property rights and whether or not there is government commitment to deal with tough economic issues for the benefit of the economy in general; we have flagged that as an important issue.
We as business people are pleased to note that government is also alive to that and it is engaging the international community. The third key issue is that there have to be business opportunities and so in Zimbabwe are there business opportunities which can entice or excite potential foreign direct investment?
TM: What sectors did you market as lucrative to the visiting delegation?
There is opportunity around mining which is thirsty for capital. The second is tourism, as you know Zimbabwe was recently rated as one of the top 15 tourism destinations in the world by New York so we have an opportunity in the tourism sector.
In terms of manufacturing, between Zimbabwe and the French community, there is a very strong relationship around manufacturing. If you look at the dairy sector for example, the Chitungwiza powder plant was a product of bilateral relationships between the French and Zimbabwean government and indeed the technology came from France so there is some umbilical relationship.
We also talked about agriculture, you know more and more people are looking at Africa to produce food for the world. Africa has got the biggest potential of all the five continents to produce food, but you need to create the environment and opportunities that are conducive for people to come and invest in agriculture so we flagged that around technology, services, infrastructure development and we flagged it again as an issue of potential interest.
TM: Indigenisation has been cited by many would-be investors as an impediment; did you get a chance to discuss the policy and its implications?
AM: Of course we flagged the issue of indigenisation, we are saying the international community is sceptical; about indigenisation so we took an opportunity to particularly explain that the Zimbabwean business community is really warm and alive to creating joint investment opportunities, partnering foreign direct capital, blending it with local capital. We are keen on that and we appreciate that nobody would want to bring in capital where you have no material control over that capital, nobody will do that and therefore the issue of joint partnerships and protecting the interest of foreign investors is of paramount importance.
I think we also highlighted the fact that government has now modified indigenisation to ensure that the decision for each sector becomes a responsivity of the line minister. I think it goes a long way to make it sector specific and not a one-size- fits-all. We are very excited that we are beginning to engage the international community.
TM: We have seen a number of bank closures recently, what effect does that have on the economy and in particular industry?
AM: We as business people are extremely worried that some of the issues which we begin to see in the financial service sector don’t send a good message not only to outsiders but even to us locals. If I have my money in a certain financial institution and I am not able to access it for the issue that it’s intended for, it’s a huge financial risk and you know we came out of 2008 where business was in a tailspin because of these financial issues and these developments are a cause for concern.
Our expectation is that the central bank must provide leadership on what is currently happening because it reflects badly on the central bank on its mandate of monitoring and supervising. We need the central bank to really be on the front charge and to give comfort to all of us.