GOVERNMENT is grappling to keep the local insatiable appetite for imported products in check, with official statistics for July — the period when Statutory Instrument 64 of 2016 became effective — show that imports rose by more than US$7 million.
The Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency’s figures indicate that July imports rose to US$176 million from US$169 million in June.
The July import bill was the second highest of 2016 after the US$177 million spent in May as the influx of sundry items such as bubblegum and skincare products continues.
SI 64 of 2016 removed more than 42 products from the Open General Import Licence, which effectively means that the specified goods will have to be rigorously vetted before they are a granted a special licence for them to be imported.
The instrument, whose lifespan is not expected to be more than three years, is designed to give local industries the opportunity to recover and grow by keeping out unnecessary imports.
However, there is a discrepancy between the figures compiled by Zimstat and those published by South Africa’s department of trade and industry.
According to the South African authorities, Zimbabwe took in goods worth US$171,2 million (R2,5 billion) in June, compared to the US$169 million recorded by Zimstat. Exports from Zimbabwe to South Africa were estimated at US$9,2 million (R135 million) in the same period.
As such, Zimbabwe’s imports outstripped exports by a staggering US$162 million in July. Overall, imports between January and June this year soared to US$959 million (R14 billion).
Zimbabwe maintained its position as the fifth-largest consumer of South Africa’s goods on the continent after Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Mozambique respectively.
South Africa is Zimbabwe’s largest trade partner.
The disproportionately large number of imports into Zimbabwe signifies the gulf between the two economies. While President Mugabe and his government have wrecked the economy, South Africa – Africa’s largest economy – has been expanding.
But the decline in the value of the South African rand against a basket of world currencies, especially in 2015, led to an unprecedented growth in imports.
It is suspected that the leap of imports from June to July could have been caused by pre-emptive orders that were made before SI 64 became effective, especially by individuals in Government who knew about the policy in advance.
In a recent interview with The Sunday Mail Business, the Minister of Industry and Commerce Mr Mike Bimha, said individuals who are undermining Government policy from within were destroying the economy.
“What surprises me is that we also have elements within the systems. . . probably across even to the border, who were very much involved in the importation to the point that (what I was surprised about is that) even before the SI was announced, there were people across the border who knew that it was coming and they had already taken measures to process some of the goods so that even when we said okay, look, we will allow goods that have been processed, we were surprised by the numbers.
“When you get someone bringing in thousands and thousands of wheelbarrows you then say it has never happened before, but because someone knew that there was this Statutory Instrument coming.
“And all these wheelbarrows coming in when we have Tregers which produces high quality wheelbarrows. That is how exactly we are killing our jobs,” said Mr Bimha.
There has been demonstrable success in the import restrictions. In July, there were no recorded statistics for bottled water, aerated water, jams, ice cream, edible ice and fruit jellies imports. A month earlier, imports of the same items had gobbled more than US$75 000.
Similarly, there is no record of human hair, fresh cheese and yoghurt imports in the same month.
Interestingly though, the import of chewing gum rose from US$1 400 in June to US$3 000 in July. Also, prepared glues and adhesives jumped from US$107 000 to US$176 000, while preparations for sunscreen/suntan increased from US$5 400 to US$8 800.
Purchases of building materials such as tiles fell marginally from US$11 400 in June to US$11 100 in July.
Experts say as local industry recovers, there is need to tighten import restrictions to ensure that only critical goods find their way onto the local market.