The country’s largest trade exhibition, the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair, opened its doors to the public in Bulawayo on Tuesday amid a huge marketing drive to sell the trade showcase.
The fair provides Zimbabwe with a unique and sophisticated platform to conduct business on a national and international scale. It is more than just a marketing tool as the entire marketplace is at your fingertips.
As a source of market information, it should fulfil the country’s needs in a centralised way.
But in reality, it is failing to achieve this.
The fair, which this year is running under the theme Optimising Business Synergies, Now and Beyond, has over the years lost its lustre as an international trade platform as reflected in the paucity of international exhibitors to the fair.
The number of international exhibitors has over the years fallen in sync with the collapse of the economy.
At one time, the fair was reduced to attracting flee market traders and the informal sector as big investors stayed away.
The recovery of the economy since the advent of dollarisation two years ago has seen international exhibitors returning, but the number is small: in fact, too small to warrant calling the exhibition an international trade fair. This year, there are just over a dozen exhibitors, a small rise from the last year’s number.
The small number of international exhibitors reflects the low investor appetite for the Zimbabwe market. This is worrying for a country that badly needs foreign direct investment to raise capacity utilisation in industry, enhance technology transfer and attract new money.
The country has in the past two years held numerous investment conferences and fairs in a bid to attract investment, but efforts in this area have been sabotaged by obtuse state policies, chief among them the indigenisation project.
Government policy towards foreign investment is not consistent. While the Industry and Commerce ministry is persuading foreign businesses to exhibit in Zimbabwe, the Indigenisation ministry is scuttling the process and scaring away investors by making political statements that harm the economy.
Only this week the minister was threatening miners with closure if they failed to comply with indigenisation regulations. And this is a country that wants investors to come in?
It is a banal fact that investors do not want to put their money where there is uncertainty of some sort. How could government, on one hand, tell investors that Zimbabwe is a safe investment haven when, on the other, its policies do not guarantee investment protection?
Any investor expressing interest in this economy is keen to know whether their investments would be safe.
The government has failed dismally on this front. It appears clueless on how to launder its badly soiled image in this area.
But the solution to this is not rocket science. Security of tenure is fundamental. Protection of investments is key and careless talk of nationalisation must be abandoned.
This week, Zimbabwe has another excellent opportunity to assess opinions from international clients and determine market potential, develop commercial structures by identifying new agents and distributors, and initiating joint ventures and project partnerships.
This opportunity should not be hijacked by hawks who have made it their business to scare away investors.
Zimbabwe needs to recover and organisers of the fair must be commended for their efforts in spurring growth. They, however, need astute state policies to compliment the good work.