ZITF hangs in the balance. . . bars exhibitors from COVID-19-affected countries

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Dumisani Nsingo and Njabulo Bhebe

The Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) hangs in the balance amid reports the ZITF Company will bar exhibitors from countries affected by coronavirus (COVID-19) from attending this year’s trade extravaganza in Bulawayo as part of efforts to help contain the spread of the disease.

Revealing the decision to our Bulawayo Bureau last week, ZITF Company acting general manager Mr Nicholas Ndebele said the firm was working in consultation with the Ministry of Health and Child Care.

“The coronavirus infection will not affect ZITF as no countries affected by the virus will be partaking at the event. We are not taking the virus lightly,” said Mr Ndebele.

“We have placed possible measures to ensure that the event will be safe as we have engaged the Ministry of Health and Child Care as well as Zimra (Zimbabwe Revenue Authority) to assist us in implementing safety precautions. They will be giving us updates on the virus and they will also ensure that every delegation that comes is screened and is safe,” said Mr Ndebele.

At least seven countries, namely Belarus, Botswana, Japan, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Tanzania have confirmed their participation.

Japan has been affected by the disease.

To date the disease has killed over 3 000 people from mostly Asian countries and positive cases have also been confirmed in African countries with the latest being South Africa and Cameroon.

The coronavirus has affected 90 countries and territories around the world and one international conveyance (the Diamond Princess cruise ship is docked in Yokohama, Japan) with 98 000 people.

Japan’s coronavirus numbers are on the rise even as its government continues to implement safety measures. It was the second country to report a confirmed coronavirus case outside China with the first case being reported on January 16 2020.

Japan’s coronavirus cases were 360 as of March 6 along with six deaths, while close to 700 cases have been reported among the guests on the Diamond Princess cruise ship anchored at Yokohama Port.

China, where the epidemic started, was yet to confirm its participation for this year’s exhibition in Bulawayo but it has been one of the biggest participants at the ZITF for years.

The coronavirus outbreak has already hit small businesses in Zimbabwe that import technological devices and clothing from China with most having begun quantifying their losses due to shutdown of most factories in China.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) representative in Zimbabwe, Mr Patrick Imam, this week spelt out some of the areas that could be affected by coronavirus in the country.

Mr Imam said while it’s still early to quantify the impact of coronavirus on the Zimbabwe economy, there is need to start thinking about the channels through which this shock may impact the country.

He said the risk is that the coronavirus outbreak had all the ingredients of another exogenous shock, like the drought, which is not of Zimbabwe’s making, yet has a significant negative impact on the economy.

Some of the key pillars of the economy that could be impacted significantly include but are not limited to tourism, mining and the  tobacco sector.

“Tourism will be impacted negatively. This is both because Chinese tourists will stop coming in large numbers for the coming months, and given the current uncertainty, tourists from all around the world will be scared to travel,” said Mr Imam.

On the mining sector, Mr Imam said assuming global economic growth is temporarily reduced, Zimbabwe should expect commodity prices to reverse from their recent upward trajectory.

“In addition to the price effect, there is some anecdotal evidence emerging that even production of minerals may be impacted in Zimbabwe. Miners need spare parts and equipment, much of it from China, and as production in China has come to a temporary halt and the shipping industry is impacted by delays, this may have temporary ripple effects on mining production here.”

He said authorities should be watchful of the tobacco sector as the main buyers of Zimbabwean tobacco are the Chinese, “and the coronavirus outbreak may impact both prices and shipment of tobacco for this coming season”.

“Besides these direct effects, there are likely to be indirect ones. Think about remittances, for instance. Let’s assume you have Zimbabweans working in South Africa in the tourism sector, and that they are laid off because tourism arrivals are down there. The result could be lower remittances coming into Zimbabwe,” Mr Imam                                                                                                                     said.

Tobacco deliveries are expected to start in April.

Besides these measurable effects, there are psychological ones that are harder to quantify but that may matter even more. “The economy may slow down not simply because of the contagion effect caused by the coronavirus, but from the fear of the unknown, leading to panic and herd behaviour among companies and consumers, who stop producing or buying for instance. But at this stage, one cannot yet quantify the effect.”

The ZITF Company has sold 94 percent of its exhibition space, as preparations for this year’s edition of the trade showcase gather momentum.

This year’s exhibition will run from the 21st to the 25th of April under the theme “Augmenting Trade and Investment towards a Shared Economic Vision”.

The exhibitor-mix is expected to be an economic cross-section with exhibits from manufacturers (chemicals, agricultural equipment and fast-moving consumer goods), services (health, information and communications technology, finance, education and transport), medical equipment, energy, tourism, printing and packaging, building and construction, local and Central Government, among others.

The 60th edition of the ZITF which ran under the theme “Propagating Industrial Growth through Trade and Investment”, was sold out, forcing organisers to, for the first time since the trade showcase’s inception, to pitch tents to accommodate more exhibitors.

The space made available for sale rose from a low of 47 612 square metres in 2016 to a high of 57 732 square metres in 2019.