THE cash drought haunting Zimbabwe has killed the zeal for many local companies who wanted to exhibit at the forthcoming Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF), industry officials have said.
The exhibition, slated for April 24 to 28 and running under the theme, Sustainable Industrial Development — Inclusive, Competitive, Collaborative, provides opportunities for local businesses to increase their market bases through engaging with foreign companies who may be exhibiting at the fair.
But despite all these opportunities, many companies may fail to participate at the fair due to foreign currency challenges besetting the country, industry officials told Standardbusiness last week.
“The preparedness is always there with every business, but currently we have a challenge of foreign currency availability where you find some of the suppliers might not be able to produce as much as they could have because of unavailability of raw materials,” Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce Bulawayo branch chairman Golden Muoni said.
“We rely heavily on imported raw materials, so you might find some of the companies might not be able to come and exhibit,” he added.
Muoni said while ZITF was very useful for local companies, the current economic environment was not giving them space, especially small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs).
He said SMEs were bunched together with big companies in terms of the space.
Association for Business in Zimbabwe (Abuz) CEO Victor Nyoni concurred with Muoni saying the fair should be made to attract bigger industrial players and also be modernised.
The size of the companies that made the bulk of the exhibitors in recent years had made it appear like the international fair was just a flea market.
“In recent years, the fair has been reduced to some kind of flea market,” he said.
“Most big manufacturing companies no longer see any value in participating at the ZITF.
“Some companies are now simply sending their marketing teams to merely observe and walk around looking for any possible business prospects. Clearly, ZITF is losing its attractiveness.”
Nyoni said the annual trade show had become so predictable and common and members that had traditionally participated had to do the usual casual preparation with hope that there would be new business coming from merely taking part in the show.
“We do not expect much from the show primarily because local businesses are still very much struggling for foreign currency to fund raw material importation.
“The export sector is equally subdued and the economy is simply not yet performing,” Nyoni said, adding that only about 20% of the Abuz membership was expected to participate at the fair this year.
He, however, said some members had expressed concern over the high booking fees, which they said should be reviewed downwards. Others said there was no more value in participating.
“We have always encouraged our members to interact with each other to create business among themselves,” Nyoni said.
“We also encourage our members to participate at trade shows of the ZITF nature as it gives them an opportunity to engage with foreign companies. Such opportunities may give access to markets outside our borders.”
However, ZITF company board chairperson Ruth Ncube said contrary to claims by business, the response to the sales and marketing campaign to date had been strong.
She said the amount of space made available for exhibition purposes had increased by 6% from the 2017 figure and 7% from 2016.
“Of this area availed, 91% has been booked to date, placing us at 104% of last year’s closing total,” she said.
“In terms of exhibitor numbers, we are currently sitting at 454 direct exhibitors, which is 27% higher than last year’s closing total of 356 direct exhibitors and 35% higher than the booking situation at the same time last year.”
Ncube said space uptake by foreign exhibitors had also been good with 18 foreign nations being represented at the fair.
“We have also seen an increase in the number of new local exhibitors as 25% of the 454 direct exhibitors who have confirmed participation will be participating for the first time,” she said.
“This, to us, is pleasing because it is indicative of an improved trading environment and renewed impetus to compete in the global market.”
To date, Ncube said, they had confirmed national exhibits from Botswana, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa and Zambia while China, Cyprus, Germany, Ghana, India, Namibia, Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates [UAE] would be represented by individual companies.
Ncube said the international exhibits would cut through a number of sectors including education, mining, aviation, transport, food, clothing and textiles, packaging materials, event management and cultural exchange programmes.
“It is interesting to note that this is the first time we will be hosting exhibitors from the UAE as our agent in that country has mobilised exhibits by producers of energy products and consumer products,” she said.
Is the fair still relevant to local companies?
Muoni said the fair continued to help businesses grow their market base.
“There are benefits in terms of trying to showcase. If you don’t showcase what you are producing, it’s very difficult to market your products,” he said.
“The trade fair is there to facilitate new markets beyond our borders. Obviously, we are going to get business from China and maybe from the Southern African region.
“We have 14 countries in the Sadc region. We could have a number of companies coming to exhibit.
“So it will be beneficial to those companies that are going to exhibit because they are going to get more contacts, partners and customers within the region and beyond.”
Industry officials say organisers should come up with innovative ways of helping businesses market their products.
Nyoni said ZITF should focus more on investment and funding of various projects in the country, adding that there was need for investment partnerships.
“ZITF needs to shift focus from a product-driven trade show to an investment-focused platform,” he said.
“Companies require retooling and other forms of financing. Another point is that the fair must be more about locally manufactured products.”
Muoni said organisers should offer incentives to court SMEs who have become the country’s economic backbone.
“There are quite a number of good things which are being done by SMEs but because they don’t have information or the financial resources to pay exhibition space, they end up not participating,” he said.
Nyoni said organisers of the trade fair had to understand that “a poorly organised show sends negative signals to both local and foreign economic participants”.
“It’s a no-brainer that ZITF is now seen as a measure of the state of the country’s economy,” he said.