The import issue

17 04 2014
  1. Deirdre Holcroft shared a link.
    4 April
    Hi Deirdre,
    I did have mixed feelings about this when I first heard of it. Generally I am not in favour of protectionism which I presumed this to be. However, a lot of my customers complain that they just cannot compete with the South African imports that this was supposedly targeting. My seed supplier tells me that the carrots that come into this country (yes it does seem daft that we import carrots which is something we grow perfectly well) are grown by a South African farmer who grows 900ha. No, there are the correct number of zeros there. On this scale he can afford to take a very small markup and it would be difficult to compete. Of course there are some things such as cabbages which would be impossible to get here economically due to their weight. Having said that there is a shortage this season and prices are sky high. This is largely due to a major producer being kicked off his farm and to the abnormally heavy rains in February that trashed many crops.
    I was chatting to someone I know on the weekend who works for Selby Enterprises that produce quite a lot of fresh produce and import what they cannot grow. He was of the opinion that the ban was designed to take the small cross border traders out of the market. They buy cheap,  poor quality produce then import it and bribe the customs not to pay duties and sell it off very cheaply to the informal markets. Then he added; “Of course you can still get an import permit if you pay a bit extra”. No surprises here really; nearly anything is available in Zimbabwe for a price.
    Apparently in Botswana they have a system whereby the government meets fresh produce suppliers weekly and issues import permits based on expected shortfalls. This is a model that should have been adapted; if the purpose of the scheme was actually to protect local suppliers and not give those with contacts preferential access to import permits.
    I have heard people question the need for a lot of the luxury produce that comes into this country (I have commented on Egyptian grapes in the supermarkets elsewhere in this blog). No, we don’t NEED luxury produce but it is really a miniscule part of our already massive import bill and our problems run far deeper as anyone who has followed the link you provided will have realized. I heard that at last year’s CFU (Commercial Farmers’ Union) Congress the guest of honour was a Zambian woman who is the chairman of the equivalent organisation in Zambia. In her address she commented that Zambia is now an exporter of maize for the first time in many years. She stopped short of saying it was thanks to the Zimbabwean farmers who fled the land grab exercise and settled in Zambia, but the inference was there. As you know, we now need to import maize to meet our requirements of this staple food; an undesirable situation if ever there was one. Zambia did say earlier this year (or was it at the end of last year?) that it would give us maize on credit but then they changed their minds. Such is our credit rating. Maize production was subsidized for many years in this country just to avoid this sort of situation and this is one of the few instances where I think a subsidy is justified.
    So, this morning I found myself in Borrowdale Village shopping centre and went past a fish shop that I’d passed many times but never entered. Curious, I went inside and in the spirit of this post bought myself two pieces of Scottish salmon. No, I will not divulge how much they cost. But it was delicious!
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