Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and some informal crossborder traders have decried lack of civic education and information on trade facilitating initiatives as a stubmling block to maximising potential and benefits to businesses.
For years, Malawi has alongside neighbouring countries, Southern African Development Community (Sadc), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) and other development partners tried to address problems faced by cross border traders.
For example, in 2010 Malawi launched a first simplified trade regime (STR) with Zambia to ease the cost of doing business across the borders of the two countries.
Later in 2012 Malawi also launched another STR with Zimbabwe. These are just a few of several other regional trade facilitating agreements which Malawi is party to.
Ironically, while trading is their day to day activity, it has been established that most traders have little or no knowledge on the trade facilitating initiatives that seek to address the challenges that they face in the course of their business.
Shorai Maziya, a cross border trader who has been plying her trade in fashion accessories and clothes for over 11 years at Blantyre Market, confided to Business News in an interview that she has not seen the trade facilitating agreements coming to play in the course of her business.
“If only we knew there are such initiatives in place I am sure we would not be where we are today. We continue to face delays just to get our goods cleared from one officer to another all in the protocol. Worse, there is no clear differennce on which and how much items should be taxed,” she said.
Her sentiments are echoed by from Angella Chisamba , who has been in the cross-border in agri-business for 11 years.
She said: “Government needs to engage us from time to time on developments regarding trading across borders. There is a lot that we need to know in regards to crossborder trading so that we benefit and ably contribute to the growth of our economy because we are stagnant.”
In an interview with Business News on Monday, Small and Medium Enterprises Association (Smea) president James Chiutsi agreed that most traders have not benefited much from the initiatives.
“Trade facilitating initiatives are very brilliant ideas but they have failed to yield maximum results due to inadequate civic education. Engagement with SMEs on what these initiatives are all about is minimal. Our suggestion is that the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Tourism should fully engage us as critical stakeholders,” he said.
But Ministry of Trade, Industry and Tourism spokesperson Wiskes Nkombezi said government has on its part worked to disseminate information on trade facilitating initiatives and it is up to entrepreneurs to take up the information and make use of it.
He said: “For every new development it is common that people will take time to adapt. But entrepreneurs are supposed to be innovative.
“People think it is the role of government to create programmes and deliver them to people but this is not what should be happening. Entrepreneurs should always be on the lookout of what is happening around them.”
Nkombezi backed the STR, saying some entrepreneurs have benefited from the regime.
Over the years, cross-border trade has proved to be an important activity in ensuring supply and access of basic needs by the border community.
Crossborder trade has played a significant role in averting widespread food shortages in southern Africa because the traders earnings are used to improve household living.