The suggestion by Ntcheu North Member of Parliament (MP) Assani Lipande (Democratic Progressive Party-DPP) that the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Tourism should ban big shops from importing vegetables stirred debate in Parliament yesterday.
In his question to the ministry, Lipande argued that banning the imports of onions, Irish potatoes and tomatoes, for example, would create a market for local vegetable farmers.
In his response, Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Joseph Mwanamvekha, on behalf of the line minister Henry Mussa, who was not in the House at the time the question was posed, said there are other ways of protecting local products without necessarily going against the trade agreements that Malawi is affiliated to.
“Malawi is operating in a global village. If we ban their products, they will do the same to us. But we can still achieve the same objective by putting other measures including value added tax [VAT] and non-tariff barriers,” he said.
However, the response did not go down well with Mzimba Solora MP Jacob Hara (Malawi Congress Party-MCP), who argued that being signatories to trade agreements does not oblige the country to buy from external markets at the expense of domestic ones.
“What is it with the country and having policies that favour foreign markets? The US [United States of America] is affiliated to regional integration but does not import clothing from China. Countries like South Africa that do not import cars from Japan,” he said.
There have been rising concerns by buyers that Malawian products are of low quality and in low supply to meet the demand.
However, farmers are advised to sell their commodities through cooperatives to meet the demand.
But MP for Mangochi Monkey Bay Ralph Jooma (People’s Party-PP) said government should ensure that farmers are empowered and that buyers establish markets in the rural areas.
“At one point in time government banned the importation of cement and [the] opposition said no. Yes it was bad because cement is a factor of production. But we are talking about importing food items. If we think we are under supplied, it is only a question of empowering [farmers] and ensuring that buyers establish markets in the rural areas.”
Malawi has bilateral trade agreements with South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, and a Customs Cooperation Agreement with Botswana. n