President Peter Mutharika on Tuesday said Malawi is undergoing a silent economic paradigm shift, moving from aid to trade while addressing factors that suppressed economic growth in the last 50 years.
In his address at the official opening of the 28th Malawi International Trade Fair (Mitf) at the Chichiri Trade Fair Grounds in Blantyre, the President said the country is currently diversifying the base of the economy from reliance on agricultural production to direct investment in multiple sectors, including foreign direct investment in agriculture itself and agro-processing, energy, mining, information and communications technology (ICT), tourism, infrastructure and manufacturing.
He said this is being demonstrated through the establishment of National Planning Commission, Ministerial Committee on Doing Business and the soon to be launched Trade and Industrial Policies which seek to level the playing field for the private sector in doing business.
Recently released annual Malawi Development Cooperation Atlas Report, a mechanism for increased transparency and effectiveness of development, indicated that development cooperation has dropped in the financial years between 2012 and 2015 by about $350 million (about K248 billion) representing a cumulative 30 percent fall over the years.
Mutharika, while describing Malawi as an investment destination, said his government has since set the ground for direct investment in various sectors.
He said: “Malawi is a land of investment opportunities. And we are a turning point! The Malawi you see today is not the Malawi you will see in a few years to come. If you look at Malawi as you have known us, you will miss the business train. But look at the wheels we have set in motion, and listen to what we are doing, and you will see where we are going.
“Some of you say: we cannot see much of what is happening. Yes, we are changing a lot of laws and policies to create a befitting legislative environment. This legislative reframing is time consuming but we are pleased with the progress. We could not do in two years what we could not do in fifty years. But we are making historical progress.”
Mutharika said his government would want to address the fundamentals of economic growth which were overlooked for the last fifty years citing the energy sector for example.
Commenting on the Mitf which is being held under the theme Achieving Competitiveness through Innovation, Mutharika said that Innovation is the insurance for survival in a competitive business world.
“Africa needs innovation for us to walk in step with the world. We need to be innovative to move with the rising Africa. Innovation will enable us to take a lead in the regional and international integration. We need to be innovative for our businesses to remain competitive and survive. So, your challenge is: think innovation,” he said.
In his remarks, Minister of Industry, Trade and Tourism Joseph Mwanamvekha urged Malawian businesses to embrace a culture of research and experimentation and explore new ways of doing business if they are to grow.
He asked companies to produce better products for both local and international markets while utilising the Buy Malawi campaign.
Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI) president Karl Chokotho emphasised on the need for a vibrant manufacturing industry if Malawi is to depart from the state of a consuming economy.
“Our manufacturing sector has principally been decimated by the liberalisation policy regime which the country adopted following, I would say, improper advice of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and later on the World Trade Organisation [WTO].
“The liberalisation and privatisation policies which these international bodies forced upon third world countries including Malawi, as solutions to our problems, devastated our economies, leading to massive de-industrialisatrion and turning our country into a consuming country hence the need to resuscitate our manufacturing industry,” he said.
This year, the fair has attracted 170 companies, including 14 foreign exhibitors, occupying 248 pavilions.
State produce trader Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) was awarded best overall exhibitor, best foreign exhibitor was awarded to Zambia, best service provider award went to Malawi Telecommunications Limited, Proto Feeds won the best manufacturer while Illovo Sugar (Malawi) Limited won the best exporter award.