Import permits to be issued sparingly: Bimha

HARARE - Industry minister, Mike Bimha, says the country is going to maintain a stringent approach to issuing import permits to protect local industry and cut on an ever ballooning import bill.

Bimha said the move was against cheaper imports as the United States Dollar (US$), the country’s main currency struggled against weaker regional currencies rendering local manufacturers uncompetitive.

“It is not a secret that manufacturers are struggling to compete with the imports, so the stringent procedure around the issuing of permits will remain. This will also help the country with its unsustainable import bill which is creating a skewed trade balance,” the minister said recently.

Zimbabwe’s import bill which stood at over $4 billion last year is also posing challenges to government in retaining foreign exchange inflows, as a huge chunk on the country’s imports are consumptive products.

The minister said government had not issued import permits in the past six months to cut the high import bill, and was going to proceed on this course.

“The approval of the permits is now subject to the availability of a specific commodity on the local market, domestic industry’s capacity to produce as well as its strategic importance to economic requirements,” he said.

Industry applauded government’s protectionist stance saying the move will boost sales and production.

“We are glad government trusts local industry to meet local demand. We have always said there are products like cooking oil and soap, these the local industry can supply without difficulty with demand being met,” Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries, Busisa Moyo is on record saying.

But, consumer protection group, Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ) said while the stance was set to benefit local manufacturers it could lead to the producers taking advantage of customers.

“It is a known fact that local goods are expensive due to the high production costs associated with the country, so naturally, the move will see consumers getting a more expensive product,” a CCZ official said yesterday.

Last year, Zimbabwe cancelled the issuance of food import permits, which sparked fears of a looming food shortage.

Agriculture minister Joseph Made announced that all current fruit and vegetable import and export permits, previously issued by the ministry, had been recalled.

This followed a Government directive that there was a need to revise the rules and regulations governing the importation and exportation of agricultural produce.

The effect of the directive was far reaching, with Zimbabweans mostly reliant on imported fresh produce because of the destruction of the domestic agricultural sector.

The import of fresh fruit and vegetables from South Africa, for example, is said to be worth an estimated $1 million a month.

However, early last year, government availed maize import permits as a hunger threat loomed due to inconsistent rainfall patterns.

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