By Kester Kenn Klomegah
Zimbabwe, among a few African countries, featured prominently at this year’s edition of the Russian International Industrial and Trade Fair during the first week of July in Ekaterinburg, a city in the Urals region about 1,700 kilometres from Moscow.
About 76 per cent of exhibitors are top managers of Russian and foreign companies, heads of regions and representatives of federal authorities.
Widely referred to as INNOPROM, it is the main industrial, trade and export platform organized annually in Russia. Due to COVID-19, about 90 countries participated in the trade fair held under the theme Flexible Manufacturing in Ekaterinburg, according to INNOPROM official website.
Industry and Commerce Minister, Dr Sekai Nzenza, headed a sizeable business delegation, including officials from the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI), Zimbabwe Investment Development Agency (ZIDA), Zimtrade, the CEO Roundtable, the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC) and the Industrial Development Corporation of Zimbabwe (IDCZ).
Zimbabwe and Russia have an overwhelmingly close diplomatic relationship. Russia has been stepping up economic investment in Zimbabwe. Based on that friendship, Nzenza was invited by Russia’s Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov who was also the fair’s main guest.
Nzenza’s office told Business Weekly that Zimbabwe had fruitful engagements with Russian companies that have expressed interest in the value addition of minerals such as tungsten, lithium and iron.
Russian firms are also keen to explore opportunities in agro-processing, phosphate, fertilizer and medical equipment as well as partnering local institutions in research and development.
There is scope for technology transfer from Russia to help retooling of local companies. Given the distance between the two countries, the perishability of fresh produce has been identified as a major impediment for growing exports to Russia, but the two countries have agreed to “work on that logistical challenge.”
Zimbabwe is currently exporting oranges to Russia and there is potential to increase exports of commodities such as garlic, ginger, macadamia, avocado, frozen fruits and vegetables as well as blueberries. Follow up meetings were held between business organizations in both countries.
She similarly told The Herald newspaper that the main focus participating at INNOPROM “is pushing Zimbabwe is open for business agenda and we are quite encouraged to participate at the fair.”
Russian companies are keen to invest in Zimbabwe’s various industries as the two countries further explore areas of economic cooperation. “The main focus is pushing Zimbabwe is open for business agenda we are quite encouraged to participate at the fair – an opportunity to meet potential Russian investors,” said Nzenza.
As Zimbabwean Ambassador to the Russian Federation, Brigadier General Mike Nicholas Sango, noted in an exclusive interview with me, Russia and Zimbabwe have put in place structures and mechanisms for sustainable economic cooperation. Although Russia’s economy is under pressure from illegal sanctions and the depressed global economic environment, it is committed to assist Zimbabwe’s economic recovery.
He highlighted his government’s key priorities and expectations from Russia as follows:
Agriculture Support: Agriculture is the economic mainstay and provides 15% of GDP. Water harnessing through dam construction, irrigation mechanization, and agricultural machinery are key areas.
Infrastructure Development: Although the country has a fairly well-developed infrastructure, the road and rail infrastructure needs refurbishment and expansion to take trade volumes for the country as well as its neighbours to the north.
Mining: Zimbabwe is endowed with abundant unexploited resources.
Manufacturing: Zimbabwe’s manufacturing sector has been hit hard by illegal economic sanctions. Most industries have outdated and expensive to run machinery. They are in dire need of retooling, refurbishment and funding.
Tourism: Zimbabwe hosts one of the wonders of the world, Victoria Falls. Investment in infrastructure development in the hotels would complement the opening by larger airports to accommodate larger body aircraft.
President Mnangagwa’s administration adopted Zimbabwe is open for business policy meant to woo investors to help revive the economy. In 2019, President Mnangagwa met his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin where the two leaders agreed to deepen economic cooperation between the two countries. Russia is one of the major sources of the country’s foreign direct investment, particularly in the mining sector.
Zimbabwe is a landlocked country located in Southeast Africa, between the Zambezi and Limpopo Rivers, bordered by South Africa to the south, Botswana to the south-west, Zambia to the north, and Mozambique to the east. The capital and largest city is Harare.
With an approximate population of 14.5 million, Zimbabwe is endowed with rich and extensive natural resources. It is one of the 16 countries, with a collective responsibility to promote socio-economic cooperation, within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) created in 1980.