Davies awaits next move from Harare

SA will not adopt a hard-line stance because Zimbabwe’s domestic industries are in distress, says Rob Davies

Source: Davies awaits next move from Harare | National | BDlive July 28, 2016

TRADE and Industry Minister Rob Davies is awaiting a response from his Zimbabwean counterpart for a meeting to resolve a dispute over Harare’s ban of certain imports from SA as a trade delegation from that country cancelled a visit to SA until “further notice”.

Davies — who conceded that the ban had taken him by surprise because it came amid trade negotiations centred on surcharges — on Wednesday said any trade mission visit between the countries would not be “fruitful” in light of the talks over Zimbabwe imposing a ban on South African goods.

The minister said an invitation had been extended to Zimbabwean Industry Minister Mike Bimha, who had yet to respond.

“I don’t have the details of what happened, but I met with Bimha’s deputy three weeks ago. We have extended an invitation for Bimha to come to SA for a meeting, but there is no indication yet whether or not he is coming,” said Davies.

But the minister also said SA would not adopt a hard-line stance because it had been informed that some of Zimbabwe’s domestic industries were in distress and the import ban could be regarded as a protection mechanism.

“I have been given a general explanation about the situation. Our principal position is we will use the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) protocol as the requisite instrument to try and resolve this.

“The issue was raised at Sadc and its committee of trade ministers said that we (SA and Zimbabwe) should meet. We are prepared to be flexible,” said Davies, adding that he had followed some of the developments in the media.

On the postponed trade visit, Davies said: “There is no point in an ordinary trade mission visit for either side as this would not be fruitful at this point.”

Zimbabwe has been experiencing a cash crunch, which has seen its government unable to pay public servants. But Pretoria has been cautious not to attribute Harare’s precarious financial position as the motive behind the import ban.

When Zimbabwe announced its import ban in June, it justified it by saying the country did not want to be a “supermarket economy”.

Some of the banned items include cosmetics, cereals and canned goods. SA is yet to quantify the financial losses incurred as a result of the ban.

Spokesman for the Department of Trade and Industry Sidwell Medupe on Wednesday told Business Day that an interdepartmental technical team from SA had visited Zimbabwe last week to lay the groundwork for a meeting between Davies and his counterpart.

“The matter is now in the hands of the two principals. The technical team will prepare a report for the minister (Davies),” said Medupe.

But he would not be drawn on divulging more details about the findings of the technical team or how the discussions between Pretoria and Harare had gone.

“We don’t have anything yet, except that it was agreed the two ministers should meet. We had to send people to Zimbabwe because of the concerns raised about the import situation.

“The discussions took place but no decisions were taken,” said Medupe.

He was, however, at pains to stress that the Zimbabwean trade mission to SA had not been cancelled but had rather been postponed until further notice.