Editor's Comment

It’s time to grow big

PRESIDENT Lungu talks to delegates at the Zambia Association of Manufacturers symposium in Lusaka on Thursday. PICTURE: KACHA MIYOBA/ ZANIS

ZAMBIA’S quest to have a fair share, if not lion’s, of the regional trade market is apparently being hindered by two major factors: unfair competition and illicit trade.

For decades, Zambia has been more on the receiving rather than dispatching end of trade. Occasionally, Zambia finds itself with a relatively good trade surplus. Ideally, this should be the norm, rather than the exception.
In July, such an unusual turn of events gave Zambia renewed hope when a trade deficit of K410.6m was recorded. This was the first time Zambia was holding its head high in years, thanks to increased copper prices.
Unfortunately, this scenario is largely out of Zambia’s hands as it does not have much control, if any of the prices for this major export. As it were, in September, the pendulum swung to an extreme of a trade deficit of just over K2 billion.
It indeed is unfair not to have much of a say in the price of your prized product, but even as copper continues to be the major source of foreign currency, Zambia ought to speed up its desire to significantly increase non-traditional exports.
Signs are promising as evidenced by statistics released by the Central Statistical Office recently. Non-traditional exports in August and September recorded an increase of 5.9 percent from K1.7 billion in August 2017 to K1.8 billion in September.
It is, however, at the lower scale that most of the concerns of unfair trade arise. Zambia’s producers contend, at most times rightly so, that the trading field is uneven in favour of foreign entities.
They should, however, not give up their efforts to get their products on the export list or compete fairly with imports on the Zambian market.
President Lungu has assured that the problem of unfair competition and illicit trade will be addressed. With this assurance, local producers and traders should redouble their efforts for the best impact and, of course, profits.
As President Lungu has said, the concern is also that there are a lot of illegally imported goods that land at much, much lower prices than those that local producers peg their goods at.
It is good that the Zambia Revenue Authority and law enforcement agencies are getting more vigilant at borders. Smuggling is being curbed but evidently, the scourge is still a big thorn in Zambia’s side.
Zambia has a vast border, and most of it cannot be completely sealed but with collective and concerted efforts by all concerned players, a lot can be achieved in significantly reducing smuggling.
Illicit goods are killing Zambia’s industrialisation drive because companies cannot grow as fast as they should if the playing field was level, if not tilted in favour of the local producers, as some countries tend to do to protect their own.
Zambia should also remain vigilant against counterfeit goods, which too, are adversely affecting the growth of local industries. Recently, a foreign maker of shoes got away with a small fine after being found guilty of producing imitations.
Zambia needs stiffer laws that would deter anyone from doing anything that is tantamount to sabotaging the country’s economy.
It is, however, also important for manufacturers to know that while the playing or trading field could be levelled, they must present quality products.
Consumers must get the worth of the money they spend on any goods presented to them. While it is true that many Zambians cannot afford expensive brands, there are many others whose decision to buy any item is determined by quality and not necessarily the price.
Thus, even if a local product could be more expensive than an imported one, some customers would still get it if they are satisfied with the quality.
In the same vein, it is quality that is key in determining the acceptance of Zambian products on foreign markets.
The ‘Buy Zambia’ campaign is good and should be key in driving the growth of Zambia’s industries. This would not only ensure that the industries stay afloat but also keep the money within Zambia.
What matters though is that again the products must meet the expectations of the consumers for quality and for price.
A collective push will surely give Zambia the desired results.

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