Duty back on imports of small basket of basic commodities

A man buys cooking oil at a market in Harare, Zimbabwe, November 26, 2020. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo
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DUTY is now payable on imports of a small range of essential goods, most of which are also produced or at least packed in Zimbabwe, with effect from today, following the repeal of emergency measures taken in May last year to allow duty-free imports when shortages and price manipulations were accelerating price rises.

The products that have been allowed in duty-free for the last 10 months, and on which duty has now been reimposed, are: cooking oil, maize meal, milk, sugar, rice, flour, salt, bath soap, washing soap, washing powder, tooth paste and petroleum jelly.

All these products are produced in Zimbabwe, or in some cases at least packed in Zimbabwe, by several manufacturers and most brands are available most of the time, with the local brands dominating shop shelves and very few imports available, so the May concessions last year are now largely a dead letter.

The repeal of the duty-free status was gazetted yesterday by the Minister of Finance, Economic Development and Investment Promotion, Professor Mthuli Ncube in Customs and Excise (Suspension) (Amendment) Regulations, 2024 (No. 272).

The original intention of the May suspensions of customs duty and import VAT were to put a lid on the maximum price rises that local manufacturers and distributors could impose, by ensuring that retailers and private Zimbabweans could import substitutes.

Local manufacturers could not charge more than the imports, whose price would be pushed up a bit by the higher transport charges.

At that time there were rapid price changes with several Zimbabwean suppliers using forward pricing, black market exchange rates and other undesirable measures to accelerate the price movements.

The duty free imports were one of the several measures taken by the Government to tame the exchange rates and what was termed “price madness”.

The main one was the switch to using the banking system via wholesale auctions of foreign currency to set accurate market-based exchange rates.

Other measures clamped down hard on the creation of local currency, the main one being the Finance Ministry taking over from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe the management of Zimbabwe’s debt and the purchase of the 30 percent of export earnings that exporters are compelled to sell at the official exchange rate.