Exports of horticultural products are under threat as the exporters sweat over the implementation of SI 157 of 2018 that compels all importers and exporters of food and other related products to be registered and licensed before shipping the goods, according to industry players.
The new law also imposes stiffer penalties for companies and individuals who violate the regulations.
Henry Nemaire, chairperson of Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI)’s trade committee says some of the requirements of SI 157 of 2018 are “too onerous and too expensive” and have brought exports to a halt.
According to SI 157, which has been lying dormant since its promulgation, but was recently put into force, exporters of food and feed, additives and seed will have to register with the National Biotechnology Authority (NBA) an autonomous research and development institution with a mandate to develop Zimbabwe through the application of both conventional and cutting-edge bio-technologies.
“Any person who wishes to import and export food, feed, food and feed additives and seed-listed in Form FFA 1 must apply to be registered . . . Upon registration exporters are also expected to apply for a biosafety import, export or transit permit.”
The Authority shall consider an application within 72 hours and may approve, reject or ask for further documents.
This, Nemaire says, is onerous and a “reversal of rapid results initiative on ease of doing exports business”.
“Ease of doing exports is now difficult in Zimbabwe.”
He said exporters were not consulted adding that if they had been, the statutory instrument “would never have affected the much-needed exports”.
He said the statutory instrument was meant for imports to prevent the importation of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) foods.
Some of the export products included under SI 157, include coffee and tea (raw or processed), sugar, fruits and products thereof and edible nuts among others.
Nemaire also said “the SI was hiding in the woodworks only to be enforced recently,” to which NBA’s acting chief executive officer Dexta Savadye said the SI was being implemented in phases.
“Before 2018 we were just using the Act. SI 157 was Gazetted in 2018 September and we started implementing it in relation to imports.
“We started with imports and then in May this year we introduced it for transit cargo. The cargo that are passing through the country but destined elsewhere have to pay for passing through our country.
“Just last week, after engagement with ZIMRA, we started to be active (on exports),” said Savadye.
Savadye said exporters have to look at the statutory instrument as a positive to the industry.
“Actually it is not affecting. If you export something and you do not have that declaration and its food or feed, that consignment may actually be returned. I think it might facilitate the movement of our exports, especially the agricultural produce.
“What we have to battle with is to lower the cost so that it is affordable and we promote exports. It is a requirement actually in Cartagena Protocol.
“It’s a requirement in many nations even the European Union that you declare the status of your consignment. It will facilitate the movement and acceptance of our exports.”
SI 157 also reads that “any person who exports any products specified in the Second Schedule without a biosafety export permit issued by the Authority shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding level 12 or to imprisonment for period not exceeding five years or to both such fine and such imprisonment”.
But the permit or licence is too expensive according to Nemaire who told Business Weekly that in addition to an overall licence, each food item will be licensed and paid for by country of destination.
It’s as if we are starting afresh. It will cost $3000 per licence, he said.
Nemaire said SI 157 will also totally defeat the national strategy to diversify exports to SMEs.
“Even medium enterprises cannot afford to export, and this comes at a time export licensing was already causing the informal sector to smuggle goods into neighbouring countries,” he said.
Savadye, however, said exporters are open for engagement with the NBA
“It is becoming expensive because when the SI was gazetted, it was in US dollars.
“We are working with the ministry at the moment to set levels for the Zimbabwe dollar. I think eventually it has to be brought down.
He said the NBA has also realised the need to promote exports, “so in that context, we make sure that they do not complain about the price issue.