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ZIMBABWE’S foreign trade promotion body, Zimtrade, has intensified efforts to boost trade to narrow the country’s widening trade deficit, blamed for a worsening liquidity crunch that has hamstrung economic revival.

The trade and export promotion body last week took Indian experts to Bulawayo who conducted a week-long training on international trade for companies in the city.

A study by the agency last year revealed that 40 percent of manufacturing companies in Zimbabwe were operating at only 37,5 percent capacity.

Last week’s training, aimed at capacitating companies in order to develop and enhance their exporting skills, was conducted in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade (IIFT).

“The programme should not be viewed only from the nature of your companies’ business focus but also from the point of view of what can be done at the national level and in this particular instance Bulawayo, to create new areas of business for example the knowledge sector, employment opportunities and the much-needed exports,” ZimTrade chief executive, Sithembile Pilime, told participants.

“It is our hope that the relationship between ZimTrade and the IIFT will continue to grow given the need to enhance our export competitiveness.”

Pilime told The Financial Gazette’s Companies amp Markets that companies remained saddled by a myriad of challenges, which were hindering their export potential, at both micro and macro levels.

Challenges include power outages, antiquated machinery, and loss of skilled labour.

“Because of lack of money and lack of credit facilities at the moment companies have to make do with what they have very few companies are managing to retool,” said Pilime.

She added: “Quite a lot has also been lost in the marketing skills. You then look at your packaging and all these other areas. As ZimTrade these are some other areas that we are looking at to try and bridge that gap.”

Acting Indian Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Rakshpaul Malhotra, who acknowledged trade between the two countries was skewed in favour of his country, said the Asian nation was committed to assisting Zimbabwe improve its exports.

Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) Matabeleland Chapter president, Busisa Moyo, welcomed the Zimtrade initiative, saying “the spirit of entrepreneurship and the export culture are still g” in Bulawayo, once the industrial hub of the country.

Association for Business in Zimbabwe (ABUZ) chief executive officer, Lucky Mlilo, said companies benefited from the training while paying tribute to ZimTrade for having organised the workshop.

“You would find that most companies face challenges in that area of exports and basically to do with the cultural obstacles that will be standing in between the two countries,” said Mlilo.

“I would say that we would implore ZimTrade to continue with such workshops especially for the SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises). We know that SMEs are the engine for growth for the Zimbabwean economy, so I think it is time that we started concentrating on SMEs.”

Mlilo said most SMEs did not have adequate knowledge when it came to export markets.

“I will give you an example, you will find that there are quite a lot of SMEs that go to Durban and Cape Town to sell their handicrafts and I think if they notice that there is a proper way of doing it rather than just crossing the border and not knowing exactly the export procedures, you will find that they will improve their businesses and they will grow,” he elaborated.

Meanwhile, ZimTrade will next week launch its reviewed and rebranded export capacity building programme — Marketing and Branding for International Competiveness (MBIC) — in Mutare.

The MBIC, formerly known as Export Marketing Training Programme (EMTP), has been reviewed in line with international best practice with the assistance of the International Trade Centre (ITC).

The Programme is aimed at developing and enhancing export skills of SMEs and established companies.

Source : Financial Gazette