THE Zimbabwe-China US$18 million deal for Harare to export 45 000 tonnes of oranges annually to Beijing has been stalled by government’s failure to issue a sanitary report and the lack of cold storage facilities in the country, the Zimbabwe Independent has learnt.
By Owen Gagare
A sanitary report is required ahead of signing of the protocol on sanitary and phytosanitary (an agreement relating to the health of plants, especially with respect to the rules of international trade).
The deal was sealed after a Zimbabwean delegation — led by permanent secretary in the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture and Rural Settlement Ringson Chitsiko which included representatives from the Office of the President and Cabinet and ZimTrade — visited China in December 2017.
A Chinese team of agricultural expects had earlier visited Zimbabwe where it approved the quality of the country’s oranges.
The trips were facilitated by the Chinese Embassy in Zimbabwe and the China Industrial International Group Zimbabwe (CIIGZ), which supports local businesses to access China’s US$23 trillion economy — the largest nominal economy in the world.
Although Zimbabwean oranges were scheduled to hit the Chinese market by as early as June 2018, the Independent understands that the deal is now hanging in the balance.
Chitsiko confirmed the deal had stalled but referred questions to Agriculture minister Perence Shiri.
“Nothing is happening on that deal,” Chitsiko said when asked about how the agreement had progressed.
He declined to discuss reasons saying he was out of the country. Chitsiko also said only the minister could comment on the goings-on in the ministry.
Shiri was not answering his mobile phone and neither did he respond to questions sent via WhatsApp.
Government officials revealed the lack of progress was frustrating the Chinese, as they believe Zimbabwe stands to benefit from much-needed foreign currency.
Officials revealed that China’s Vice Minister of Commerce Qian Keming, who led a Chinese business delegation which visited Harare last month, discussed the deal with government officials.
While the Zimbabwean deal is stalling other countries such as Kenya are moving forward and capturing the Chinese market.
Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in April signed a deal allowing Kenyan farmers to export hass avocados.
Kenya is the first African nation to export avocados to the Asian nation with a market of over 1,4 billion consumers. The deal came after a comprehensive approval process that included Chinese experts visiting Kenyan farmers.
It is estimated that when the agreement is fully implemented, the Chinese market will absorb over 40% of Kenya’s avocado produce, making it one of the largest importers of the fruit.
“The frustrating thing for those who pushed for the deal is that the Chinese Embassy started pushing long before the Kenyan Embassy engaged Kenyan authorities on the avocado deal. But the Kenyan government moved fast to ensure the conditions are met, while by contrast, there has been lethargy from Zimbabwean officials,” a government official said.
According to Trade Map, China spent US$242 million importing citrus in 2016, a 45% increase from 2012.
At the time the deal was sealed ZimTrade regional manager, Similo Nkala, who was part of the delegation, said an opportunity had availed itself for local growers to increase their production.
“The 45 000-tonne order is more than what Zimbabwe’s citrus producers have managed to export for all citrus fruit combined, in any year previously. Part of our mission was to visit citrus farms, seedling producers and processing centres to learn best practice in the citrus value chain.
“The Ministry of Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement and ZimTrade will share relevant information with players in the industry to assist in boosting local production,” Nkala said.
The tours included a visit to China’s biggest citrus packing plant where 12 tonnes of oranges are packed every hour. Visits were also made to processing plants where value additions were made, with processed fruit delivering not just juice, but also oils from the rind with uses in skincare products, flavourants and washing powder.
A Chinese seedling grower that produces 3,2 million citrus seedlings per annum was also engaged, and expressed a willingness to supply Zimbabwean farmers with seedlings to help scale up the country’s production.