But experts have expressed concern about the shortage of protections for local producers.
“Government procurement policies do not support local producers,” said Albert Makochekwana, an economics professor at the University of Zimbabwe. “You see for instance government departments and parastatals buying most goods from other countries.”
“The government pronouncement should [tell people to] strictly be buying local, but our local suppliers’ prices are just out of this world,” he told SupChina, highlighting long-standing concerns about cheap Chinese products flooding local markets.
COVID-19 has only worsened the operating challenges of local manufacturers, something analysts say has resulted in the Chinese increasing their local footprint, bringing in cheaper materials.
“In many countries, governments seek to manage such investment inflows in accordance with national development strategy, but countries like Zimbabwe struggle to attract many investors due to a very poor business environment, and ongoing economic and political crises make it more difficult,” said Nathan Hayes, an analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit.
“Zimbabwe could benefit from more structural external assistance, with investment across the supply chain,” he said. “Most inputs and equipment are imported, making it expensive, while the government has a limited supply of hard currency to pay for imports.”
Other factors have added to the woes of local companies: steep electricity tariffs, power outages, water shortages, and high rental prices, to name a few.
“Zimbabwe is a high-cost producer and all our locally manufactured goods and services are generally more expensive than from other countries,” said Makochekwana, the economics professor.
The Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC) says the country’s private sector is beset by not just COVID-19, but also government policies that continue to favor exporters at the expense of local producers.
“We continue lobbying for the survival of businesses, making sure anti-business policy measures are decried,” said ZNCC chief executive officer Christopher Mugaga in a February 10 business update.
“We expect almost 40 percent of small-to-medium enterprises not to survive the pandemic,” he said.
For now, with Mutsvangwa expressing the government’s commitment to granting China more business opportunities, it could be some time before local businesses turn the corner and help rebuild Zimbabwe’s battered economy.
is a Zimbabwean freelance journalist