Could this be ZITF turning point?

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It has become tradition that the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair’s (ZITF) annual trade showcase is officially opened by a Head of State.

However, this time around, the ZITF, whose noble vision is encapsulated in the statement: “To be a dynamic provider of the premier forum for business exchange” is breaking with tradition and in a way realigning itself to its mission.

ZITF’s mission is to “organise and manage international exhibitions and events to promote trade and investments through innovation and value-addition for the benefit of stakeholders”.

However, since its inception- more than four decades ago, and more recently since 1980, the exhibition has been overshadowed by political players.

Heads of states in the region, and as far afield as Iran, have been taking turns to officially open the exhibition with its goal of being a dynamic provider of the premier forum for business exchange seemingly playing second fiddle.

But with the announcement that the Export and Import Bank (Afreximbank) president Jean Louis Ekra will be the guest of honour, there is no doubt this will breath fresh air to the vision of the exhibition.

Industry and Commerce minister Welshman Ncube recently told our sister paper, The Standard, “The decision to invite Ekra was in line with their objective to refocus the exhibition into a proper trade show.”

This year’s exhibition will be held from May 3-7 in Bulawayo under the theme “Optimising Business Synergies, Now and Beyond”. Last year, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad officially opened ZITF, a development condemned by other partners in the inclusive government.

The MDC led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai at the time, said inviting Ahmadinejad to open the country’s premier event would give a wrong picture of Zimbabwe at a time when efforts were being made to bolster international relations especially with the West.

The Iranian president’s visit widened rift within the coalition government. The Tsvangirai-led MDC formation described the decision to invite Ahmadinejad as a “collosal political scandal”.

“This year we have invited a person who is not a head of state, the president of the Afreximbank as our guest because we realise that we need to mobilise lines of credit for the industrial sector.
“The bank has supported Zimbabwe more than any other with lines of credit and has a mandate to promote exports in Africa.

“In recognition of that, we have invited its president in the hope that he would appreciate what local industry is doing with the money they have advanced,” said Ncube.

Last month the government and Afrexim bank concluded a $70 million Zimbabwe Economic and Trade Revival Facility (Zetref) deal that is expected to breathe life into the country’s stuttering economic recovery.

Ekra said the facility had come at the right time when the country’s economic policies were beginning to yield positive results as indicated by forecast of economic growth.

“Zetref facility is meant to help resuscitate the economy of Zimbabwe in the productive sector especially in agriculture, mining and manufacturing through provision of medium-term funding,” he said. He said the bank’s participation in the revival facility was a reassurance to Zimbabwe of its commitment to continue with targeted support to critical economic sectors and in broadening its instrument of intervention.

Afreximbank is at the forefront of attracting other lenders into the Zimbabwean economy through its syndications and risk-bearing programmes. The bank is also in talks with CBZ on the issuance of the Zimbabwe Economic Recovery Bond that will also contribute towards the much needed long-term funding.

“Afrexim is backing Zimbabwe because it makes business sense to the bank,” said Ekra.

Distinguished personalities who include former South African President Thabo Mbeki, King Mswati III of Swaziland, former Prime Minister of Malaysia Dr Mahathir Mohamad and former Namibian president Sam Nujoma, Zambian President Rupiah Banda, Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, have all officially opened the trade fair in previous years.

President Mugabe opened the inaugural trade fair in independent Zimbabwe in 1980 when he was still Prime Minister before subsequently opening several other fairs in between.