THE Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) — which used to attract dozens of international exhibitors showcasing new products, technology and ideas — now resembles a huge flea market, basically reflecting the state of the ailing economy which has now become highly informalised.
Nqobile Bhebhe/Fidelity Mhlanga
ZITF, officially opened yesterday by Zambian President Edgar Lungu, has yet again failed to live up to its billing with even poorer participation by local companies.
Themed “Simulating Trade: Seizing opportunities to accelerate growth”, the prime exhibition show that ends tomorrow has 31 foreign exhibitors compared to last year’s 39. Seventeen countries are represented at the fair, with 404 direct exhibitors
The first two days of the fair were a big disappointment as business was subdued, with some exhibitors yet to complete setting up their stands as if exhibiting was a mere formality.
A local daily reported that even the Chinese, who were active at previous fairs, have largely ignored the fair, with plenty of space reserved for them conspicuously empty.
ZITF has over the years gradually deteriorated in terms of the mix and quality of exhibitors, in sync with the economy which has been sliding for about one and a half decades. Zimbabwe has suffered massive de-industrialisation due to an ongoing economic crisis, with retrenchments feeding the rapid growth of the informal sector.
Far from being a serious exhibition in quantitative and qualitative terms which offers exposure to traders, the multi-sectoral and multi-national expo has now resembles a large flea market selling poor quality products.
A walk around the ZITF grounds showed that some exhibitors were trying to sell their products instead of showcasing them as envisaged. Large industries and the corporate world have reduced space uptake, while a lot of space inside the showground remains vacant. In previous years ZITF organisers have had to lower exhibition space charges to attract more exhibitors.
Bulawayo-based economist and MP Eddie Cross said: “The Trade Fair is a casualty of the economic and political situation. The economy is shrinking. There are only few international exhibitors this year. The management of the fair is doing a great job but the event is hardly a showcase for Zimbabwe. I think describing it as a flea market is the right description.”
“There is no point in talking about industrialisation, when 60% of agro-based industry is dead. We are going nowhere and the government is clueless.”
ZITF chairman Bekithemba Nkomo said they hoped the fair would gather momentum.
“We are pleased with the participation of visitors and the number of business visitors that have been coming in. We are particularly happy with the improved foreign participation. There is a fair amount of excitement from the foreign contingent.”
However, Bulawayo-based economic analyst, Butler Tambo, said this year’s fair has made little impact on the host city, which has suffered massive de-industrialisation, amid company closures and job losses.
“There are few Bulawayo-based companies that are exhibiting at this year’s Trade Fair and I don’t think they will clinch any lucrative deals,” Tambo said. “The trade is dominated by the few foreign companies while parastatals and universities are better represented compared to private companies.
Zimbabwe’s parastatals have become synonymous with mismanagement and corruption, and continue to be a severe drain on the country’s struggling fiscus.
The products on display are of poor quality, reflecting the parlous state of the economy, said Lupane State University lecturer George Nyathi.
“The steers (bullocks) exhibited this year is of poor quality and I don’t know whether it’s because of the foot and mouth disease. I think government should play its part by addressing the cost of doing business in Zimbabwe because at the moment it is just too high.”
Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa admitted Zimbabwe’s economy was subdued when he addressed the international business conference on the sidelines of the Trade Fair.
He, however, said government remained committed to providing the necessary environment to support business.
“One such initiative is the Ease-of-Doing-Business study by the Finance and Economic Development ministries, which seeks to identify impediments to do business in Zimbabwe as well as come up with reforms to improve the situation,” Mnangagwa said.
“These are reforms we should implement expeditiously as we demonstrate our renewed zeal to develop our economy.”
For now Zimbabwe remains an unattractive investment destination. The country is ranked 171 out of 189 countries on the 2014 World Bank Doing Business scale.
Government statistics released last year show that more than 4 600 companies have shut down since 2011 resulting in the loss of more than 55 400 jobs.
Despite claims that the tourism sector was on the rebound it was in fact the hardest hit, with 2 142 firms shutting down since 2011 with 18 413 jobs lost as a result. In the manufacturing sector 458 companies closed with 9 978 jobs lost.