THE African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement is a reality and Zimbabwe should move swiftly and start preparing for it now, lest it losses out to other continental powerhouses, industry officials have warned.

To date, 27 countries, including Zimbabwe, have ratified AfCFTA meant to create strong economic integration on the continent by forming a single continental market.

It is also one of the largest free trade areas since the formation of the World Trade Organisation, given Africa’s population of 1,2 billion people, which is expected to grow to 2,5 billion by 2050. The AfCFTA agreement also has the potential to foster industrialisation and deepen regional value chains.

Speaking during the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC) trade and investment conference in Bulawayo last week, industry officials said there was need for all economic players in the country to gear up for AfCFTA.

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“It has been written and all of us we are able to read and interpret. This thing is kicking in come July 2020. There is no reverse and if you look at what other countries are doing, African countries, countries that used to come and learn from Zimbabwe, they are moving and they are sprinting while we are watching,” ZNCC president Tamuka Macheka said.

“We are better off pulling our socks now and start running. Otherwise we will be left behind and it’s only a few months to go before that happens,” he said.

Bulawayo City Council financial director Kimpton Ndimande urged businesses operating in the local authority to be pro-active.

“You call for a meeting, they don’t come. I think we need to address the issue of attitude in Bulawayo,” he said, citing their recent snubbing of the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (Zupco) scheme.

An official from Trade and Development Bank, Morciad Chaparira said Zimbabwe should identify products needed by African countries and start producing them in preparation for the AfCFTA.
“We need to know what the world needs and start producing those,” he said.

Other delegates felt Zimbabwe should just focus on products and services where it has a comparative advantage in.Industry and Commerce deputy minister Raj Modi told businesses that government had started implementing the Zimbabwe national industrial development policy.

“As you may be aware, government recently launched the Zimbabwe national industrial development policy (2019-2023) (ZNIDP) under the theme Towards Investment, Innovation and Export-Led Industrialisation,” he said.

Modi said the ZNIDP seeks to leverage on the momentum gained during the implementation of the industrial development policy (2012-2016).“The policy is now being implemented to ensure that we achieve growth and competitiveness in the industrial sector,” he said.

Modi added that the policy was aimed towards transforming Zimbabwe into an upper middle economy by 2030 and will respond to regional, continental and global developments.

“The structural economic transformation towards industry is critical for the sustained economic growth and development of Zimbabwe. The main challenges stifling growth include antiquated machinery and equipment, lack of affordable and long-term financing for industry, for exchange shortages to procure raw materials, high utility costs and competitiveness, among others,” he said.

ZNIDP also seeks to facilitate the sustainable growth of industry, development of new industries and the transformation and diversification of the Zimbabwean industry.

For instance, the policy targets to achieve a manufacturing sector growth rate of at least 2% per annum; contributing towards attainment of a gross domestic savings rate of at least 30% of GDP; manufacturing value-added growth of 16% per annum; merchandise export rate of 10% per annum to orient the manufacturing sector toward exports and generate capital for a high savings rate; and increasing the manufacturing sector share of employment to 20% by 2023.