CLOTHING sector players have urged government to implement a colonial era Bilateral Trade Agreement (BTA) it signed with South Africa in 1964 in a bid to boost the local industry.
Zimbabwe Clothing Manufacturers’ Association chairman Jeremy Youmans told Standardbusiness last week that one of the major issues, which the government needed to tackle immediately was the continuance of the BTA with South Africa.
“This agreement has been in place since 1964 and was described by the previous presidents of both countries as the foundation of economic trade between the two countries,” Youmans said.
“Right now, Zimbabwe needs every advantage we have to try and develop our economy to give our people a greater level of social and economic prosperity and dignity.
“Our economy has been distressed for some time and to apply to take away even a small preference is like kicking us whilst we are down on the ground.”
He said South Africa had argued that all trade should be done within the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) trade protocols.
However, Youmans said the BTA had some preferences to Sadc, mainly due to the refusal by South Africa to liberalise areas of the regional trade protocols, which would better suit most of the other member states.
“Consequently, we need to retain what preferences we have. South Africa has spent billions of rands in supporting its own industries, which it has the means to do,” he said.
“The rest of the region should also be supported to be allowed to develop so that our economies can also be more industrialised and we will not just be traders.”
Youmans said the clothing and textile sectors had formalised an agreement on support measures, which would greatly enhance the competitiveness of both industries.
He said the support measures were regulatory and relatively simple but the implementation had stagnated.
“Whilst the measures remain outstanding, the benefits are not experienced and the growth and development does not happen,” Youmans said.
“We hope the minister (of Industry and Commerce, Mangaliso Ndlovu) can effect the implementation of the agreement, which was first signed a year ago.”
Youmans welcomed the new minister saying they were looking forward to working closely with him on the development of the clothing industry and the value chain.
“The clothing sector represents one of the best opportunities for employment and value addition with relatively little capital investment,” he said.
“Many developing countries around the world have used the clothing industry as a major driver of industrialisation and Zimbabwe needs to as well.
“The country is restricted in its resources to develop everything now and so we must prioritise those areas of the economy, which give us the greatest value addition return for our limited investment.
“We hope to convince the new minister that clothing is one of those and so needs further supporting.”
Youmans said it was also vital that the industry received allocations of foreign currency to import the raw materials, which were not made locally.
He said the aforementioned agreement provided targeted support for cotton value addition and textile development but most raw materials the clothing sector required still needed to be imported.
“The RBZ gave a directive on the priority list of allocation, making raw materials for value addition priority one,” Youmans said.
“The banks are not adhering to this sufficiently.
“Consequently, you can buy multiple brands of imported potato crisps and baked beans in the stores, but we can’t employ people to make clothes as we can’t buy the imported fabric we need to make them from.”
Youmans said in the medium term, they would like minister Ndlovu to support the process to get Zimbabwe included within the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa).
“Nearly every other African country is a member of Agoa and therefore able to export duty-free, quota-free to the USA, the wealthiest country on the planet. We are still denied such access,” he said.