In Zimbabwe, economic analysts are warning that jobs in the country's clothing, textile and leather industries could be in jeopardy, if the government does not curb the influx of cheap Asian goods.
The influx of goods from Asia could put up to 30,000 Zimbabwean manufacturing jobs at risk according to a report in the Zimbabwean weekly newspaper, The Financial Gazette.
The report comes at a time when Asian, especially Chinese goods have flooded the Zimbabwean market. The imported goods are in most cases much cheaper than local products. Although the quality of the imported goods is considered inferior, that has not stopped Zimbabweans, reeling under the worst economic crisis ever, from buying them.
Workers in the industry are crying foul. General Secretary of the National Union of the Clothing Industry Fred Mpofu told The Financial Gazette, a Chinese shirt goes for as little as three dollars, while local shirts cost at least five times that. He said, some clothing factories have already cut back on the number of workers, while others are now on three-day work weeks.
Mlamleli Sibanda, a spokesperson for the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, told VOA that the unions are carrying out an impact study before talking to the government.
A Zimbabwe Revenue Authority official, who spoke to VOA on condition of anonymity, says the government has already addressed the issue. He says an amendment to the Customs and Excise regulations published in August has increased the duties on clothing imports.
Albert Gwala, vice president of the Zimbabwe Textile and Allied Workers Union, told VOA that the increases are not good enough. He said given the weakness of the Zimbabwe dollar, the Asians would still manage to sell their goods cheaper. To protect local industry, he said, the Asians should not be permitted to supply goods that are also manufactured locally.
The increase in trade with Asian countries is a result of the government's 'look east' policy. President Robert Mugabe last year said, in view of the deteriorating relations with the west over alleged human rights abuses, Zimbabwe should concentrate on developing ties with eastern countries.
China is a long-time ally of Zimbabwe, having supplied arms to Zimbabwean guerilla fighters during the war against colonialism that led to independence in 1980. That co-operation has never been fully translated into trade.