Africa Moyo Deputy News Editor
When President Mnangagwa announced on November 24, 2017 that Zimbabwe would pursue an engagement and re-engagement drive to establish and re-establish good relations with all countries of the world, many people thought it was empty talk.
But the President said his administration would “hit the ground running”, and indeed, no time was wasted. The efforts to re-engage are already bearing fruit and the invitation to participate in the virtual Africa Investment Conference scheduled for this Wednesday is testimony to that.
The conference is organised by the UK’s Department for International Trade and Zimbabwe joins 35 other African countries in the key conference that is expected not only to raise Zimbabwe’s profile on the international arena, but also expose captains of industry to potential markets and sources of funding.
Large and small firms in finance, agriculture, renewable energy and other key sectors are expected to participate in the conference.
Acting Foreign Affairs and International Trade Minister Professor Amon Murwira believes Harare’s relations with the United Kingdom were “very good” and “improving every day”, and participation in international business conferences helps the country get opportunities to improve trade ties with global partners.
Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries president Mr Henry Ruzvidzo told The Herald last week that they were “encouraged with the relationship currently taking place”, adding that Britain had always been “a major partner with Zimbabwe”.
There are signs that trade between Zimbabwe and Britain can rise going forward, especially with the UK’s exit from the European Union (EU).
The total trade in goods and services — exports and imports — between Britain and Zimbabwe in the four quarters to end of the second quarter of 2020 was US$412 million. The figure is way lower than the existing potential, if both parties engage on the basis of mutual respect.
Last year, UK-Africa trade rose 7,5 percent last year to £36 billion, implying that Zimbabwe has scope to boost trade with London if the support announced at last year’s summit was obtained.
The UK-Africa Investment Summit held on January 20 last year laid a firm foundation for new partnerships between the UK and Africa, based on trade, investment, shared values and mutual interest.
Over 1 000 people including Heads of State and ministers from Africa, CEOs and senior representatives from African and British businesses, institutional investors, international organisations, financial institutions and civil society, attended last year’s conference.
Unfortunately, Zimbabwe was not invited. Harare can now take advantage of its involvement this year to claim its stake and propel the mining, manufacturing and commercial sectors.
The UK, which has a strong foundation in Africa in general and Zimbabwe in particular after being the colonial master for several years, announced new initiatives and funding last year aimed at strengthening the joint trading relationship, support African countries in their ambition to transform their economies, launch a major new partnership with the City of London, turbo-charge infrastructure financing, and enable Africa’s clean energy potential.
Investments into Africa of up £6,5 billion cutting across infrastructure, energy, retail and technology sectors were announced last year, with a further £1,5 billion of UK aid-funded initiatives expected to create many jobs and mobilise over £2,4 billion of additional private investment for Africa.
A discussion on accessibility of the funds should part of the deliberations at this year’s conference so that countries can start benefiting from the funds and boost operations, in a way that leaves no one behind.
The UK, which has remained behind other countries such as China and Japan in terms of investments in Africa, should take advantage of the conference to understand the challenges in Africa, and perhaps it will abandon the adversarial approach that we have seen in recent years, especially when dealing with Zimbabwe.
But the UK’s aspiration to become the investment partner of choice for Africa, creating thousands of jobs and ensuring the mutual prosperity among the nations, is commendable.
Zimbabwe, which is working on reviving its industry, will be excited about the UK’s desire to boost trade between Africa, as this might bring solutions to funding issues that have dogged some critical sectors of the economy, particularly in the face of Covid-19.
Already, the UK has expressed interest in supporting Zimbabwean smallholder farmers to get access to its horticulture market, and experts want reduced or zero tariff rates on exports to support local exporters.
The UK Export Finance has provided financial support worth over £1,8 billion in the last two years to generate contracts for UK firms in Africa, and now offers financing to over 40 countries across the continent courtesy of the relations being forged.
More funding is expected from this year onwards as the UK seeks to take advantage of potential brought about by the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which came live from January 1.
The AfCFTA will create the world’s largest free trade area, with a population of 1,2 billion, implying a huge market for producers, and Zimbabwe wants to be a key player so as to generate more foreign currency.
From last year’s engagement, the UK committed to over £397 million for new programmes to boost further trade and investment links with Africa.
Refreshingly, the UK is keen to assist Southern Africa to increase intra-African trade flows, reduce barriers to trade and increase investment to the tune of £200 million over seven years. This support will help Zimbabwe’s industries to boost their capacity and compete with other nations as it seeks to benefit from AfCFTA.