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‘We need more manufacturers’

THE country’s premier trade show the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) was held last month and was oversubscribed. Business reporter Freeman Makopa (FM) caught up with Industry and Commerce minister Sekai Nzenza (SN, pictured) for a postmortem of the trade showcase. Below are excerpts;

Fact file: Sekai Nzenza
  •  Nzenza is the Minister of Industry and Commerce.
  • Educated in Australia at University of Melbourne
  • Graduated with a PhD in International Relations
  •  Has worked in development and relief programmes in Australia, Tanzania, Rwanda, SriLanka and the United States
  • Former managing director for Amatheon Agri Zimbabwe, a subsidiary of Amatheon Holdings, a German Agribusiness
  • Was Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare from September 2018 to November 2019.

FM: Tell us about your assessment of the ZITF this year.

SN: This year’s trade fair was a resounding success, with a lot of improvement in terms of attendance and space uptake and general quality of the exhibition stands. The most impressive observation this year was the quantity and quality of locally-produced products.

In touring the exhibition, I had the opportunity to discuss production methods and processes with some exhibitors who highlighted the innovative methods they had adopted to accelerate production since the start of the pandemic.

It is pleasing to see that even in the background, our producers and business owners are constantly thinking of ways to strengthen value chains at micro and macroeconomic levels, which is what the ZITF 2022 theme sought to address. It was apparent that the manufacturing sector is on a growth path, as locally produced goods were on display testifying to increased capacity utilisation.

The fair was characterised by a palpable feel-good atmosphere all around, as even the public was allowed to come in on the last two days (April 29 and 30, 2022), having been precluded in last year’s event.  This augurs well for the economy of the City of Bulawayo as service providers right across the board, including hotels and lodges; restaurants and eateries; transport operators; all found their services  in huge demand.

FM: Were there any foreign investors apart from exhibitors at ZITF?

SN: There is actually a very thin line between foreign exhibitor and investor as these exhibitors are companies that are looking for both forward and backward linkages; as well as new markets, utilising the exhibition as the platform where they can meet potential business partners and policy makers from various sectors all under one roof.

In addition to the foreign exhibitors, we also had a number of foreign business delegates from countries such as Angola, Botswana, Nigeria and South Africa, who all visited the show with the intent of building investment relationships. They used the ZITF platform to meet government agencies such as Zimbabwwe Investment and Development Agency (Zida) and ZimTrade.  Zimtrade had meetings with Limpopo Development Agency from South Africa as well as Botswana Investment Trade Centre (BITC).

Their interests were mainly in processed foods and building and construction. We will be following up on these meetings and nurturing the leads to see the deals through. We are, however, still collating and liaising with these agencies on the foreign business investor database from this year’s show.

FM: What were the foreign exhibitors’ areas of interest?

SN: There were 24 foreign exhibitors coming from 13 countries. They had a varied product mix including machinery, textile and food.

These exhibitors were looking for a new source and sales market. Belarus is an example of a foreign exhibitor from ZITF 2022. The country is quite strong in the manufacturing of agricultural, transport and mining equipment and engineering. Amongst their products were tractors and irrigation equipment. Following their first participation in 2019 Belarus has set up shop in Zimbabwe, Bison Agro Machinery focusing on agricultural equipment.

They saw an opportunity considering the fact that Zimbabwe’s economy is anchored on agriculture and mining.  OJSC “BELAZ” is a major global manufacturer of mining dump trucks, as well as other heavy transport equipment, i.e cross-country dump trucks with hydro mechanical transmission; loaders. Belarus had eight companies exhibiting from the same stand and some of them are into pharmaceutical and health products.

FM: The investors were from which countries?

SN: There were several business visitors and investors from countries such as South Africa, Japan, Malawi, Mozambique, Indonesia, Belarus, Zambia, Kenya, Britain, Switzerland, Botswana, Tanzania and Nigeria.

FM: Were there any deals clinched, and if there were any give us the details and how much are they willing to invest?

SN: There were several deals struck with foreign exhibitors during the show. Botswana Investment Trade Centre (BITC) highlighted that there were many orders (amounting to millions of dollars) received by their private sector especially in the construction and hardware areas.  Some of these companies are now contemplating setting up shop in Zimbabwe.

BITC also indicated that they will be increasing their stand size next year, to accommodate more exhibitors given their successful participation this year. There were also long-term deals signed during the ZITF show. Most notably, the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC), Umuahia Chamber of Commerce of Nigeria and the Angolan Chamber of Commerce signed an MOU detailing the joint efforts in increasing their efficiency in promoting bilateral economic activity. They agreed that they will be instrumental in assisting their members, particularly those in the agriculture, mining and manufacturing sectors, in trade and legal issues regarding the promotion of business cooperation. The signed MoU will be valid for a period of eight years from the date of signing.

FM: Why do you think the investors were interested in those areas?

SN: Belarus saw opportunities in the agriculture and mining sector considering the fact that Zimbabwe’s economy is driven by agriculture and mining. These sectors are key sectors in the economy and there is massive growth. Zimbabwe currently has no prominent manufacturing companies in the areas of machinery, specifically for these mentioned sectors, as the country mostly imports equipment.

However, there is a chance of improvement as highlighted by the MOU signed with the Angola Chamber of Commerce, the Umuahia Chamber of Commerce and other agreements with industries in the mines and agriculture sectors, in a bid to encourage economic activity in all three countries. Part of that is increasing manufacturing sector activity.

FM: In what way was this year’s ZITF different from other years?

SN: This year’s exhibition was unprecedented in that it was overly subscribed for, unlike all the other previous events that were held against the backdrop of pressing economic challenges, wherein the level of industrial activity had gone down and inflation was high.

This year, the ZITF Company sold 100% of its available exhibition space.  It had to create some extra space in its parking grounds, to accommodate more exhibitors.   What was equally notable was not just the huge exhibition spaces taken by exhibitors but also the immense improvement in the quality of exhibits and also the quality of exhibition stands.

We also saw the coming back of foreign countries that had last exhibited a long time ago.

This demonstrates that the Second Republic’s policy of engagement and re-engagement, under the wise and visionary leadership of His Excellency President Mnangagwa is beginning to bear fruits.

This upsurge in space uptake attests to the renewal of confidence in the country, on the backdrop of the positive developments taking place in the economy.  The level of capacity utilisation in industry products found on the supermarket shelves today has also gone up considerably, at about 75%.

This compares very well with the previous years where a lot of products consumed in Zimbabwe were being imported, to the detriment of other productive sectors that ended up being starved of the much needed foreign currency.

The other notable difference was also in the level of participation in the traditional ZITF International Business Conference, wherein this year’s conference had more than 650 participants.

On a related note, the ZITF Company also introduced a very new and exciting event, namely the Connect Africa Symposium, whose inaugural session on April 28, 2022 was held under the theme “Reimagining the Future: A United Africa, A Prosperous Africa”.

It could not have come at a more opportune moment in the history of the African continent’s economic development, in view of the unfolding African Continental Free Trade Area.

The symposium brought to the fore the need to accelerate pan-African trade and thereby give impetus to the African Union’s Agenda 2063, anchored on industrialisation that leverages on the continent’s huge natural resource endowment.

The quality of conversation at these forums was remarkably impressive!

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