Trade, particularly exports, plays a pivotal role in the development of economies and growth in exports reflects on improved productivity and improved employment from the industries.
There is no doubt, therefore, that increased exports offer some key sustainable solutions for economies looking to grow their economies.
This explains the keen interest from President E.D Mnangagwa’s administration to bolster Zimbabwe’s position in global supply corridors through the integration and reintegration drive.
The Second Republic’s economic diplomacy agenda that is targeted at reaping economic benefits from Zimbabwe’s stellar political relations with the rest of the world, coupled with improved business facilitation activities carries by national trade development and promotion organisation – ZimTrade – and related institutions seen positive results for the country over the past five years.
Between 2018 to date Zimbabwean efforts for reintegration have seen positive fruits with local products finding new markets and industrialisation efforts have seen the diversification of products exported.
Despite, disruptions in global activity from COVID-19 and geopolitical tensions the total exports comprising of merchandise exports and services exports for 2022 breached the US$7 billion-dollar mark.
The National Export Strategy and National Trade Policy have a target of US$7.2 billion exports by end of 2023 and indications are that the country will meet the goal post if same growth recorded in 2022 is sustained.
New markets for Zimbabwe
The quest for discovery of newer markets for Zimbabwean produce has seen Zimbabwean produce doing well in non-traditional markets such as United Arab Emirates, China, and Italy.
Trade with the United Arab Emirates has increased almost tenfold indicating the fruition of Zimbabwean economic diplomacy efforts.
Figures from Trade Map and Zimstat show that exports to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) passed the US$2 billion mark, up from US$223 million in 2017 to US$2,1 billion in 2022.
Participation in the several trade exhibitions that took place in Dubai over the past few years contributed significantly to the strengthening of the bilateral trade relationship between Zimbabwe and the UAE.
There are efforts to unlock opportunities for horticultural produce, value added products such as cigars and leather products, as well as arts and crafts in UAE, which will contribute to further growth of Zimbabwean exports into the market.
Exports to China, Belgium, Zambia, Italy, and Netherlands have also grown tremendously over the past years.
Zimbabwe China relations were always cordial, with diplomatic relations being officially established in 1980 despite support prior to independence of the Republic of Zimbabwe.
With the Second Republic, the relationship has moved beyond political, with concerted efforts to grow the presence of Zimbabwean products in China.
Figures show that local exports to China have grown from US$960 thousand in 2017 to US$585 million in 2022.
Trade relations are expected to deepen as both countries strengthened business linkages during the Zimbabwe-China Business Forum organised by ZimTrade recently.
The Forum has been critical in championing economic diplomatic relations with the global powerhouse, and results from the programme shows that local companies also benefited from knowledge and technology transfer, which will go a long way in developing competitive Zimbabwean products.
Further to the Chinese market, the Eastern and Southern African Economic Partnership Agreement (ESA-EPA) has strengthened Zimbabwean foothold in rekindling trade relations with Europe.
Exports to Belgium, which have grown from grown from around US$52 million in 2017 to US$215 million in 2022, symbolise a concrete gateway of Zimbabwean produce to the European Union.
Exports to Italy grew from US$2,5 million in 2017, to US$61 million in 2022, a significant growth that will contribute towards meeting national export targets.
Further to this, Zimbabwe has also made significant recovery regarding the Jordan market, which had seen a major drop in 2016.
According to figures from Trade Map and Zimstat, Zimbabwe’s exports to Jordan grew from US$2 million in 2017 to almost US$12 million in 2022, showing the successes recorded in the Second Republic’s re-engagement drive.
In addition, intra-continental exports constituted 47.7 percent of Zimbabwe’s merchandise exports in 2022, marking a head start to the African Continental Free Trade Area as the average intra-continental trade in Africa is below 15 percent.
The high volumes of exports into African markets demonstrate Zimbabwe’s zeal to strengthen trade relations on the continent.
South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, and Zambia are traditionally Zimbabwe’s largest African trade partners due to the existing bilateral and multi-lateral trade relations between Zimbabwe and these countries.
These are signatories to the SADC and COMESA and are working actively to reduce barriers to trade imposed by reduction or elimination of tariffs, quotas, and other non-tariff barriers.
Aggregated trade statistics for Africa show that Zimbabwean exports to the region increased from US$2,6 billion recorded in 2017 to US$3,1 billion in 2022.
Zambia is emerging as one of the leading destinations for Zimbabwean products in the region, with exports to the market growing from US$58 million to US$90 million, representing a 54 percent growth, according to Zimstat.
Major export products from Zimbabwe to the market include electrical machinery and equipment, processed foods, paper and paperboards, wood and timber, and furniture.
Following several export promotion programmes conducted by ZimTrade in Lubumbashi, and Kinshasa, there has been significant export growth to Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Further to markets in the region, there are efforts to unlock access to non-traditional markets on the continent, especially in east and west Africa.
For example, ZimTrade has conducted market research and activities to connect local exporters to leading buyers in markets such as Kenya, Ghana, Equatorial Guinea, Senegal, and Nigeria.
The remainder of 2023 calendar is filled with regional trade fairs such as the Zambia Agricultural and Commercial Show, Maputo International Fair (FACIM), Botswana Global Expo, and the Intra-Africa Trade Fair where the target is improving visibility of local products on the continent.
Diversified export products
Although primary products such as tobacco and minerals constitute the bulk of the export products from Zimbabwe, there have been efforts to diversify the export basket, with a key focus on value added products.
Agriculture is a significant sector in Zimbabwe, and the growth of agricultural exports has played a crucial role in driving overall export growth.
Although the horticulture sub-sector witnessed disruptions following the outbreak of COVID-19, there are some produce that have made huge strides in export growth.
For example, exports of fresh or dried citrus fruits grew from US$6,01 million in 2017 to US$34,39 million, according to Trade Map.
The coming in of the citrus protocol with China is expected to further boost Zimbabwe’s exports of citrus.
Exports of berries have also grown from US$370 thousand in 2017 to US$19,33 million, whilst flower exports grew to US$8,85 million, up from around US$2 million.
Besides the traditional European markets, Zimbabwean blueberries have made inroads into non-traditional markets, and are now found in, for example, south-east Asian countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand.
During the same period, exports of avocado grew from US$1,7 million to US$14,7 million between 2017-2022, according to Trade Map.
In addition, the country has seen an increase in the production and export of crops such as tobacco and cotton.
Trade statistics reveal that tobacco exports grew by 19 percent from the US$837,6 million recorded in 2017 to US$996,3 million in 2022.
Exports of cotton also grew from US$34,3 million in 2017 to US$41 million in 2022.
Value addition efforts in the subsector are being recognised with exports of manufactured cigarettes growing to US$72 million in 2022, from US$37 million in 2017.
As part of diversification of export products, new products are gaining traction, such as unglazed ceramic tiles that are growing in popularity in Zimbabwe’s regional markets.
The subsector has gained traction as the value exported in 2022 grew to US$16,46 million, from around US$540 thousand in 2017.
Other sectors that had previously been affected by COVID-19 have also witnessed growth.
In the last year processed foods exports increased by 25 percent from US$59 million in 2021 to US$74 million in 2022.
Major contributors in the sectors were sugar exports, confectionery products, crushed or ground pepper, and fruit juices.
Agricultural inputs and implements exports also increased by 35 percent, up from US$23 million in 2021 to US$31,2 million in 2022.
Major exports from are seeds of maize, soya beans, and fruits.