Though we are not full advocates of protectionism, the introduction by Government of import controls on 23 medicines to save the local pharmaceutical industry is a commendable step towards stopping the importation of products that can be manufactured locally. Importation and smuggling of all manner of medicines risks jobs of more than 1 000 employees as their companies face closure due to competition from lowly priced imports.
Cheap imports and those smuggled through porous borders have an adverse effect of further curtailing a sector that is already hamstrung by many economic challenges.
It is sad to note that we have been importing locally manufactured drugs such as aspirin and caffeine tablets, among many others. Medicines are generally sensitive in nature and rampant importation and smuggling exposes the general populace to safety and health risks as some of the products are either expired or substandard.
Statistics show that Zimbabwe imports over $400 million worth of drugs annually yet its own pharmaceutical industry requires $80 million to recapitalise. If we could prioritise the local industry, we would be able to create prominent pharmaceutical companies using the highly skilled human capital the country boasts and in turn aid in creating employment and development of the economy.
As such we commend Government, through the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, for introducing import controls on the selected pharmaceutical products to save local industry and unnecessary waste of scarce foreign currency.
Against this background, it is important for Government to assess all the sectors of the economy with a view to protecting sectors facing similar threats from the influx of cheap imports.
Importing locally available products or goods that can be made locally, be they pharmaceuticals, grain or clothing, has the negative effect of reducing earnings for local companies.
When companies are faced with reduced profitability their response naturally is to scale down production, meaning the firms could be forced to lay off some workers. Since Government has introduced import control measures on selected medicines, it is important that more control and monitoring mechanisms are put in place to prevent smuggling, as unscrupulous businesses or individuals will try to evade formal channels.
This is because the domestic economy cannot afford sustained growth in imported products that can be manufactured locally when it is desperate to save industry from collapse.
It therefore calls for concerted efforts from all Zimbabweans to exercise the highest levels of patriotism towards efforts to turn around the economy by prioritising the “Buy Zimbabwe” campaign.
In an environment where structural reconfiguration has resulted in widespread loss of jobs, Zimbabwe cannot afford to fuel more job exports through the “foreign is lekker” mantra.
Because the economy has not recovered from the meltdown of the hyper-inflationary era, the country is still way short of the required liquidity to support meaningful economic activity.
Being Zimbabwean means that everyone exercises a measure of responsibility to protect not just the country’s sovereignty, but also economic well-being by making conscious decisions that promote growth.
We urge the pharmaceutical industry to take this as an opportunity to revamp their operations and improve efficiencies which will lead to the production of competitively priced goods. The major reason why there was an influx of imported products is that they are cheaper when compared to locally manufactured products.
Local companies must therefore work on ways to cut their costs to remain competitive. Protectionist policies cannot remain in force forever.