Lloyd Gumbo Senior Reporter
The British government is feeling the heat from Zimbabwe’s successful Look East Policy and will at the end of this month send a high-powered trade delegation to explore possible areas of investment, especially in energy and infrastructure sectors.
This comes after China and Russia signed multi-billion-dollar deals in various sectors, with Zimbabwe in August and September respectively, showing that the Look East Policy was bearing fruit.
The Chinese deals were mainly in infrastructure, energy and agriculture, while the over $3 billion deals signed by the Russians were concentrated in the mining sector, especially the extraction of platinum.
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Zimbabwe deliberately adopted the Look East Policy after a fallout with Western countries that sided with Britain over the land reform programme which empowered the majority.
No meaningful investment came from Britain in the last decade as the former coloniser sidelined Zimbabwe in its trade deals after imposing illegal sanctions on the country for daring to embark on land reform.
Newly-accredited British ambassador Ms Catriona Laing revealed the impending visit of the delegation after presenting her credentials to President Mugabe at State House yesterday together with four other diplomats from the European Union, Mauritius, South Sudan and Swaziland.
She said the new development was inspired by the need to support Government’s economic blueprint, the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation.
“For the first time in many years, we are sponsoring an official trade delegation to Zimbabwe at the end of October,” she told journalists after presenting her credentials.
“A number of different companies will be coming here to look at areas in energy and infrastructure, for example. So, I think that’s a first very positive step forward.”
Ms Laing said during her closed-door meeting with President Mugabe they discussed how the two countries could improve their bilateral relations.
But she failed to explain how trade relations could improve when the illegal sanctions her country imposed on Zimbabwe remained in existence.
Ms Laing claimed the sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe were not trade and economic measures, but just “travel restrictions”.
“We want to build on the very good Zim-Asset economic blueprint that has just been developed,” she said. “We are encouraging our investors to come here. What the investors want to see is confidence that when they make investment here their assets will be secured, that the environment is predictable so that they know the returns that they are able to make.
“There are many companies wanting to come to Zimbabwe. Companies will come where economics makes sense. It is the job of diplomats to think about the political environment, but investors do want to come here provided their investment will be secure.”
Ms Laing said it was up to the European Union to review the sanctions regime in February next year based on the progress made by Zimbabwe.
Speaking to the media after presenting his credentials to President Mugabe, new European Union Ambassador, Mr Philippe van Damme said the bloc was interested in normalising relations with Zimbabwe.
“The EU and all its member states altogether have to further enhance our partnership in the interest of this country and that we have to give each other a chance by building measures of mutual trust so that we can help this country forward on a sustainable and equitable trade policies in the interests of its people,” he said.
Mr Van Damme said the EU was there to help Zimbabweans in different ways, among them creating a conducive environment for investment.
He claimed that the EU, Britain and the United States were the highest providers of development aid in Zimbabwe.
“We are engaged in this country,” he said. “Take that, believe us we are engaged. We want to go forward. But we need to create the conditions to go further and these conditions include building a conducive environment for investment, to create confidence also among the people, rule of law. Give us a chance to help Government achieve this.”
Sources who attended the meetings said President Mugabe categorically told Ms Laing and Mr Van Damme that they were supposed to unconditionally remove the illegal sanctions.
Mauritius’ new diplomat in Zimbabwe, Mr Mahomed Ismael Dossa said the two countries enjoyed trade relations, adding that there were a number of possible areas for further trade cooperation.
“We have three more agreements in the pipeline,” he said. “One of them is on the ICT (Information Communication Technology) sector, one on education and one on tourism. But as the ambassador of Mauritius we want to look at more avenues.”
Mr Dossa said one of the possible areas of interest was for Zimbabwe to tap on Mauritius’ comparative advantage in medical personnel and ICT.
Ambassador Gabriel Gai Riak said relations between Zimbabwe and South Sudan dated long back.
He said he looked forward to facilitating trade relations between the two countries during his tenure.
Swaziland’s new diplomat, Chief Senzangakona Dlamini said Zimbabwe and had a lot in common, adding that promoting trade relations between the two countries was high on his agenda.
He said possible areas of cooperation between Zimbabwe and Swaziland was in sharing skills in agriculture.