THE 2017 edition of the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF), being held under the theme “Harnessing Linkages for Industrial Development”, is dominated by informal traders with only a few companies in the manufacturing sector exhibiting.
The annual trade showcase, which ends tomorrow, has been described as a “big flea market” by black economic empowerment lobby, the Affirmative Action Group (AAG), although it is meant to showcase the best products produced in Zimbabwe and the region.
Organisers of the ZITF said this year’s theme was pertinent, coming at a time the revival of industry is a priority for Zimbabwe, the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) and the African Union (AU), but the AAG is not particularly pleased with the quality of exhibition.
AAG Matabeleland regional chapter president Reginald Shoko said exhibitors were far from meeting the goals of the theme as they only focussed on selling their products with no intention of setting up “even a small retail shop” in Bulawayo, a city that has undergone massive de-industrialisation.
A tour of the stands showed that some exhibitors — while soliciting trade deals — were selling their products such as fridges, irons and shoes to individuals.
Fourteen foreign countries are exhibiting at the ZITF, down from 19 last year. Countries that are exhibiting include Botswana, China, Ethiopia, Germany, Iran, Japan, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania and Turkey.
China and South Africa, which in recent years were the largest exhibitors at the country’s annual trade showcase, were a pale shadow of themselves with only a few companies from the two nations exhibiting at this year’s event. At one time, China used to dominate the trade fair by occupying an entire hall, but not this year.
South Africa — Zimbabwe’s largest trading partner — was the largest exhibitor in 2016 with 32 companies participating, but this year only a few companies from that country participated. Namibia is the biggest exhibitor at this year’s event with critics saying it was because their president, Hage Geingob, is the guest of honour.
He will officially open the ZITF today.
ZITF board chairperson Ruth Ncube told journalists at a press conference on Tuesday that in terms of exhibitor numbers, 367 direct exhibitors were participating, up from last year’s closing total of 354.
But many of those companies were distribution agents of foreign companies such as Minelab that sells gold metal detectors and Haggie Rand Zimbabwe that supplies South African-manufactured Veldspan mine fencing equipment.
Foreign companies exhibiting at the ZITF were also searching for distribution agents in Zimbabwe.
“There is activity compared to last year but whether that activity will transform into anything serious, or business, is another question. From what we have observed, it does not reflect any serious business. It is a big flea market,” Shoko told the Independent yesterday. “For starters, how many manufacturing companies, both local and foreign, are exhibiting? We have companies that are there to push their products, to sell their products. Basically, it is like a flea market. No serious business, no indication that they would like to set up base in the city in the foreseeable future.”
A tour of the ZITF showed that some pavilions belonging to local companies remained, just like last year, showing that the firms have either opted to stay away from the trade fair or moved into the halls as the manufacturing sector reels under an economic crisis.
Very few companies from Bulawayo were exhibiting, except small to medium enterprises (SMEs), confirming the state of the city’s industrial sector. Big companies exhibiting at the fair include Econet, Powertel, Delta Beverages, Treger Products, United Refineries and Zimplow.
According to ZITF general manager Nomathemba Ndlovu, only 25% of local participants were from Bulawayo, with Harare at 63% while the balance was coming from other cities around the country.
Last year, the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) said the ZITF, while presenting an opportunity for trade for local companies, had however lost value as it was costly to them. The CZI said companies were failing to exhibit owing to varying degrees of viability challenges they face.
There was however activity at the Bulawayo Agricultural Show which runs concurrently with the ZITF as compared to previous years. Cattle, goats, poultry, crop produce from both communal and commercial farmers is on show
Livestock exhibitions and cattle sales were suspended in Bulawayo two years ago at the height of a foot and mouth outbreak, which threatened to wipe out the national herd. ZITF cattle sales, however, remain suspended.
Almost all universities and government departments were exhibiting, with the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC), also participating for the second time.
Ambassador Mary Mubi, the senior principal director in the OPC, said the department’s participation was key in showing government’s approach to industrial development in the country and steps it has taken to archieve the ease of doing business.
“It also allows us to communicate government successes and actions towards the achievement of industry-related goals under ZimAsset as well as assess the impact of government initiatives on industry and citizens,” Mubi said.
Foreign exhibitors said they did not face hassles at the country’s borders in bringing in their goods this year, unlike in previous years. This follows representations by the ZITF Company to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra).
Exhibitors were left frustrated before after the tax authority withheld goods demanding over various demands.
“We have not had any problems of our goods coming through the border. Previously, we have heard of the stuff coming to ZITF being stuck at the border (on the Zimbabwean side) for two weeks failing to reach the show but this time around that has not happened,” said South Africa-based adhesive distribution company, National Adhesive Distributors sales manager, Zane Scullard.
According to the AAG, there must be a paradigm shift in the way the ZITF is run to ensure that it serves its purpose and primarily benefits Bulawayo, the host city, through the signing of investment deals to revive closed industries.
“Bulawayo is not benefiting from this flea market,” Shoko said.