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Harare’s trade rules hurt SA exporters

| Economic factors

SA is losing out on potentially billions of rand in revenue as its exporters are forced to pay higher tariff duties to access the Zimbabwean market, while Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies struggles to resolve an import ban on South African products by that country.

Xolelwa Mlumbi-Peter, deputy director-general for international trade and economic development in the Department of Trade and Industry, told Business Day that figures showed trade had improved from 2015 despite restrictions. "But this indicates that more could have been traded if the restrictions were not in place.

"In addition, it indicates that South African exporters are absorbing the higher duty — higher than the agreed SADC [Southern African Development Community] duty — in order to access the Zimbabwean market. This is, of course, inconsistent with the letter and spirit of the SADC Trade Protocol."

In 2016 Zimbabwe imposed a surprise ban on imports of products including cooking oil, maize meal, milk, butter, cheese and coffee creamers, building materials and agricultural fertilisers. This caused chaos at the Beitbridge border, which had to be closed as angry traders staged protests. The ban, which was intended to encourage Zimbabweans to buy locally in spite of growing liquidity pressures, was later eased.

But Zimbabwean Minister of Industry and Commerce Michael Bimha said: "There is no ban on importation of any product from SA or any country for that matter."

Davies on Friday said he would raise the matter at the SADC meeting in March.

Zimbabwe had not sought permission as per SADC procedure to allow the country to raise its tariffs, he said. Instead, Zimbabwe had implemented surcharges. "They’ve done it without coming to SADC … they have done this in the face of growing imports and declining capacity to manufacture."

SA had identified 112 out of 1,000 tariff lines that Zimbabwe did not produce. Davies said he had highlighted this.

"We want to see accommodation of some of our products. That process hasn’t happened," Davies added.

SA is one of the top investors in the Zimbabwean economy. In 2015, exports to Zimbabwe amounted to about R25.6bn 
and imports R4.3bn, according to the Presidency.

Mlumbi-Peter said recently that SA was informed verbally the list of banned products would be reviewed at some point to allow raw material imports and to restrict more finished products.

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