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Zimbabwe:  No Shortage of Imported Goods For Those With Money - 2003-05-14


Zimbabwe is experiencing its worst economic crisis since independence 23 years ago. Basic commodities and fuel are in short supply. But, there is no shortage of imported goods in the supermarkets for those with money.

Australian butter, Dutch cheese, South African wine, milk, cooking oil, margarine and even the staple maize meal are just some of the many products in abundance on supermarket shelves in the better off areas of Harare.

While some of these products were available when the Zimbabwean economy was doing well, they had to compete with products manufactured in the country. Now they practically have the shelves to themselves.

An economist for Zimbabwe's National Chamber of Commerce, James Jowa, says the shortage of foreign currency in Zimbabwe has made it very expensive to produce just about anything. As a result, he says, imported products are now often cheaper than those made in Zimbabwe. "Because of the major increases in the cost of producing goods and services, it's becoming relatively cheaper to import goods and services, particularly consumption goods like cooking oil, things like soap," he said.

Mr. Jowa also says that the price controls on a number of essential commodities have made it uneconomical for companies to produce them.

A businessman who spoke on condition of anonymity says business people are either using their own external funds or getting money on the parallel market to import the goods, some of which go straight to the thriving black market where huge profits can be made.

But few legitimate businesses are profiting in Zimbabwe. Most manufacturers are operating at 30 to 40 percent capacity, and many companies are either down-sizing or relocating to neighboring countries.

Mr. Jowa, the Chamber of Commerce economist, says Zimbabwe, which once had one of the strongest economies in Africa, is actually undergoing a process of de-industrialization.