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Zimbabwe’s economy could perform better if the money used to import goods went towards capitalising local industries and production.

ZIMBABWE’S import bill of US$3,3 billion does not reflect a country that is facing a severe liquidity crisis but an economy with productivity challenges, a bank chief has said

Zimbabwe’s huge trade deficit averaging US$250 million per month is creating a situation where money, which is supposed to circulate locally, thereby creating liquidity, is in fact being exported by financing imports.

The gap is expected to widen further as the local industry continues to struggle to meet consumer demand. The huge deficit showed that there was a market readily available in Zimbabwe which local manufacturers could tap into.

Speaking at Barclays Bank’s annual general meeting, managing director, George Guvamatanga, said Zimbabwe’s economy could perform better if the money used to import goods went towards capitalising local industries and production.

“The economy does not reflect liquidity challenges when the country’s import bill exceeds US$3 billion… It could have been better for local industries if that money was being used to capitalise local production. The economy has productivity issues rather than liquidity challenges there is need for structural adjustments,” he said.

Guvamatanga said government should implement significant and decisive interventions to enhance investor confidence to promote local production to reduce the country’s import bill.

Last year’s Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries Manufacturing Sector Survey said local companies were not exporting because their products had become uncompetitive on the export markets. The companies also said the shortage of working capital had forced them to focus on meeting local demand while the high cost of production had rendered their products expensive on the domestic market, a situation that had given cheap imports an aantage.

Recovery in the export sector was sluggish while diaspora inflows were stunted due to aerse global economic developments. Capital inflows had remained subdued on account of growing investor uncertainty.

“I still maintain that an economy facing liquidity challenges would not import US$2 million worth of apples in a single month or US$700 000 worth of mineral water and other beauty products. It will make a big difference of generating employment and enhancing circulation of liquidity locally if such goods are produced locally,” Guvamatanga said.

Guvamatanga said the economy had money but much of it was going towards imports. Failure to access lines of credit had worsened the situation.

The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe said the country was importing goods worth about US$6 billion annually while exports amounted to about US$3 billion.

Analysts said local companies should be “innovative and smarter” and take aantage of available opportunities to sell.

Many analysts said there was unlikely to be reduction in the trade deficit in the short to medium term if industry remained under-capitalised.

Imports are heavily skewed in favour of consumptive products.

Commenting on the bank’s outlook, Guvamatanga said the bank would continue operating under its safe banking model but would grow a quality loan book and increase participation in key sectors of the economy.

“As Barclays we will build on most things that we started in 2014. We will still continue with our safe banking model and within this safe banking model we would like to increase participation in key sectors of the economy and continue to widen and adapt our product overlook,” he said.

Year to date profit was slightly above budget while the cost of funds was still in line with 2014 levels. Total assets on the balance sheet were up nine percent to US$319 million.

Guvamatanga said the bank would continue with its thrust of increasing interest earning assets although deposits were still largely demand balances.

The loan loss ratio was below one percent.

Loans to deposit ratio declined to 50 percent from 59 percent during same period in 2014 while the capital adequacy ratio remained at 20 percent.

Source : Financial Gazette