For a long time, Malawi has had a negative trade balance in international trade. The country continues to have a negative trade balance with China, the European Union (EU), India, the United States of America (USA) and Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) dominated by South Africa.
Negative trade balance means a country is exporting less to its trading partners while importing more from them.
Several factors contribute to a country having a negative trade balance. They include lack of competitiveness in terms of the business environment. In Malawi’s case, we also have a huge appetite for foreign-made or imported goods. For example, I have always wondered why, as a country, given the abundant natural resources availed to us, we should be importing toothpicks from China. I am glad that some entrepreneur has ventured into making toothpicks locally.
Former president Bingu wa Mutharika’s vision was to transform Malawi from a predominantly importing and consuming one to a predominantly producing and exporting economy.
This year, on March 18 to be precise, President Peter Mutharika launched the ‘Buy Malawi Strategy’ which is essentially a revised edition of the Buy Malawi Campaign Strategy developed in November 2009 following Bingu’s directive for a formal launch of a programme to drive consumption of locally produced goods.
In a nutshell, the ‘Buy Malawi Strategy’ seeks to encourage consumption of locally produced goods and services.
However, to achieve the same, as a country, we will need to improve the competitiveness of local firms to stimulate local production and promote industrialisation.
Patriotism and supporting quality products made locally are other steps to avoid unnecessary drain on foreign exchange and reduce imports. In recent years, I have seen high quality furniture products made locally, yet many Malawians still prefer to import from China bedroom suites or sofa sets worth as much as K2 million.
To achieve the ‘Buy Malawi’ dream, there is also need to be focused as a country by undertaking an honest Swot (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis on which areas to focus on and be competitive. For a start, Malawi is endowed with water and arable land which can be utilised to attain a competitive edge.
In an earlier article, I gave the example of South Korea whose products such as KIA (Korea International Automotives) and Hyundai vehicles as well as Samsung gadgets that have taken the world by storm. These products got where they are through patriotism. Majority of Koreans supported them and here they are! We can do the same.
In the 1980s, we used to see on our roads Ford pick-up vehicles whose bodies were built locally and inscribed ‘Body By Mandala’. I thought that was a good start that needed to be sustained. Who knows, by now we could have had a motor vehicle assembling plant!
Every time we buy foreign-made products, including bath and laundry soaps, one thing we should bear in mind is that we are supporting foreign jobs, creating more of them whereas at the same time denying our compatriots jobs in the same industry. In the end, local manufacturers of similar products end up scaling down production and firing our brothers and sisters.
Of course, it is not just about buying, eating or drinking local. Quality, too, matters.
Now that we seem to be serious with the ‘Buy Malawian’ campaign or strategy, it is my humble plea to local manufacturers to up their game in terms of standards and quality if they are to be supported. Besides, as some have argued and observed before, local manufacturers, especially in the small and medium scale category, should be honest and deliver on their promises. n