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Economy
30 January 2023, 13:13

Business forum in Harare: Transcontinental bridge, investments and Belarusian ice cream in Africa

On the eve of the state visit of Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko, the Belarus-Zimbabwe business forum opened in the capital of Zimbabwe, Harare. It has brought together dozens of heads of ministries, departments and companies on both sides. The event provides a great opportunity to communicate in various formats, t show capabilities and tour local enterprises, conduct business negotiations and, of course, sign memorandums, agreements and contracts.

Belarus has brought its national delicacies to the forum - a variety of meat and dairy products and even ice cream. Of course, it is not an exhibition in the full sense: several stands are just a drop in the ocean of what Belarus manufactures and is capable of. However, this is quite enough to present the country's potential in Harare, to understand the taste preferences of Africa. Unlike tractors, harvesters or BelAZ trucks, which have been supplied to Zimbabwe for several years, Belarusian food is yet to enter the Zimbabwean market.

According to the Belarusian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the most promising avenues for bilateral cooperation are healthcare, food, light industry, mechanical engineering, metallurgy, fuel and energy, mining, chemical, woodworking industries.

Zimbabwe is open for business and cooperation

On behalf of Zimbabwe the business forum was attended by the distinguished guest - First Vice President Constantino Chiwenga. He was taken on a brief tour of the Belarusian food exhibition. He, together with Zimbabwe's Industry and Commerce Minister Dr Sekai Nzenza, tasted ice cream, which was very popular with high-ranking officials. By the way, it has been made with the use of orange juice made from the fruits grown in Zimbabwe. So the ice cream itself is the fruit of cooperation between the two countries. As they say, more is to come. But a lot has already been done, which was also mentioned by Constantino Chiwenga at the forum.

The first vice president stressed that Zimbabwe is open for business. "Your visit to Zimbabwe is further proof that we are determined to firmly and further develop economic relations between the countries," he said.

Investing for shared prosperity

Constantino Chiwenga lauded the warm relations between the two countries. Their gradual strengthening was facilitated, among other things, by previous visits at the highest and high levels.

“The forum is an ideal platform to exchange views, knowledge and information on economic development. I hope it will help us exchange experience and knowledge that will further unlock the full potential that both parties have,” he said. “There are plenty of opportunities in Zimbabwe to invest in a wide variety of industries. These are agriculture, mining, tourism, energy, transport, education and many others. I ask our partners from Belarus to consider opportunities to invest in our enterprises, because in this country our priority is to facilitate the conditions for doing business. This is part of our strategy for economic and political development through 2025, when we plan to take the country to a brand new qualitative level of development. Today I was glad to learn that our Belarusian partners are ready to invest in the development of industrial cooperation with Zimbabwe.”

Constantino Chiwenga added that Zimbabwe is a member of the continental free trade zone, the market of which covers more than a billion people.

The start of a great journey

According to Deputy Prime Minister Piotr Parkhomchik, both parties have already done a tremendous amount of work to develop cooperation. The trade between Belarus and Zimbabwe has increased sevenfold since 2018 and reached $39 million in January-November 2022.

“Belarus is fully involved in the modernization of agriculture in Zimbabwe. More than 2,000 units of tractors, harvesters and other agricultural equipment have been supplied within three years. We receive words of gratitude from Zimbabwean farmers who are satisfied with the quality and functionality of Belarusian equipment. We have launched a number of investment projects in agriculture, mining, and industrial cooperation. This is just the start of a big journey,” the deputy prime minister said.

A bridge between Eurasia and Southern Africa

Belarus has something to offer its Zimbabwean partners in addition to the projects it is already implementing. “These are cargo, passenger, road-building equipment, consumer goods, food, pharmaceutical products and many other things that can benefit the Zimbabwean people,” the deputy prime minister said.

Belarus is also interested in the products manufactured in Zimbabwe. “As a member of the Eurasian Economic Union, Belarus is ready to become a bridge between Eurasia and Southern Africa. The economies of Belarus and Zimbabwe are complementary. We are confidently moving forward and gradually coming to a more modern and multidimensional economic relationship through trade,” said Piotr Parkhomchik.

A Secret about Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe has benefited greatly from bilateral relations with Belarus in various sectors, said Mike Kamungeremu, President of the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC). These include agriculture, mining, energy, infrastructure development, science, technology and innovation. "One of the goals of today's event is to expand the range of these industries in order to include such sectors as healthcare, food production, light and heavy industries, production and use of fertilizers, education," he said.

"The areas of cooperation between our countries are expanding and opening up new horizons that will benefit investors. In terms of economies, Belarus and Zimbabwe are not competitors. We can develop mutually beneficial trade and investment," Mike Kamungeremu said.

"Dear Belarusian colleagues, I want to share a secret with you: there are a lot of opportunities in Zimbabwe. Here's my secret. Believe me, you will not regret that you decided to do business with Zimbabwe and in Zimbabwe," he wrapped up his address to the forum.

Zimbabwe's Industry and Commerce Minister Dr Sekai Nzenza noted that 2023 is off to a very good start in bilateral relations: "We all see that relations between our states are strengthening. Relations between the private sectors are growing stronger. It is very gratifying to see such involvement in the development of these relations on both sides."

"Now is the time to implement all our agreements. I am especially pleased to see that we are stepping cooperation in such sectors as cotton production, fertilizers and a number of others. As for the dairy and meat products, they will be of great interest to investors. I think they will work to ensure that these products find their way to this market," the minister said.

Dr Sekai Nzenza also expressed gratitude for creating opportunities, future prospects and jobs that arise as a result of the development of bilateral cooperation.

First results

Representatives of 33 Belarusian companies operating in various sectors of the economy - mechanical engineering, pharmaceuticals, food, light industry, education - came to the forum in Zimbabwe, Chairman of the Belarusian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Mikhail Myatlikov told BelTA. "In of 2022, our exports posted excellent growth. I think new contacts and presentations will contribute to new indicators next year," he said.

In the near future Belarus will welcome a big delegation of Zimbabwean businessmen to strengthen the cooperation which was launched including on the sidelines of the forum in Harare.

At the official opening ceremony of the business forum, a number of important documents were signed between the partners of Belarus and Zimbabwe. Lidselmash and Minsk Motor Works signed agreements with AFTRADE DMCC to sell their products in Zimbabwe. Gomselmash signed a memorandum of bilateral cooperation with its partners “to meet the demand of agricultural producers of the Republic of Zimbabwe for agricultural machinery”.

Another memorandum of cooperation with AFTRADE DMCC was signed by Bobruiskagromash. The Bobruisk manufacturer plans to supply its machinery and spare parts to Zimbabwe.

A memorandum of strategic partnership was signed between Minsk Tractor Works (MTZ trademark) and AFTRADE DMCC as part of the promotion of BELARUS machinery in the Zimbabwe market. In addition, the Confederation of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (Employers) of Belarus and the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries signed a memorandum of cooperation.

MTZ will double its presence on the Zimbabwe market

Minsk Tractor Plant (MTZ) is, in fact, the main exporter of Belarusian products to the Zimbabwean market. “From 2018 to 2022, MTZ delivered more than 1,800 vehicles to Zimbabwe. In the next two years we plan to double their number. We and our partners are engaged both in sales and maintenance. There are three service centers operating today. Three more will be opened soon. We expect to gain a solid foothold here,” MTZ Director General Director Vitaly Vovk said.

In his words, it is hard to compete in the African market, but it always pays off. “Everyone comes here, everyone wants to conquer this market. In Zimbabwe, we are getting good results because it is a long-term effort. The results of the past two years show that hard work and the foundation of cooperation is paying off. In the next two years we are going to double our presence on the Zimbabwe market,” he said. The company is also interested in the markets of neighboring countries in southern Africa and not only them.

According to the document signed at the forum in Harare, MTZ will supply 3,575 tractors to Zimbabwe in 2023-2024. In the future, the number of tractors and terms of delivery will be determined based on the results of negotiations with Zimbabwean agricultural enterprises.

Minsk and Harare will become sister cities

Minsk Mayor Vladimir Kukharev told a BelTA correspondent that an agreement on establishing sister city relations between Minsk and Harare is to be signed on the sidelines of the Belarusian leader's state visit to Zimbabwe. “We have mapped out many areas of work. We plan to continue cooperation, because we see that many of our products are in great demand here - both industrial goods and Bellegprom products, everyday goods. We will hold talks in order to promote our products,” he said

“We need to step up our efforts in this direction, because Zimbabwe has a very good potential in various fields of activity. We should use our capacities to establish a foothold on this market,” the Minsk mayor said.

Zimbabwean police uniform may be Belarus-made

Chair of the Belarusian light industry concern Bellegprom Tatiana Lugina is also optimistic about cooperation prospects. Negotiations are under way and cooperation ideas are becoming increasingly specific.

“We would like to build a better understanding of our prospects on the local leather and footwear market. We have learned that cotton is grown here. Our working delegation came here in December to study the production capacities of local tanneries. Plus, the minister of industry and commerce of Zimbabwe turned to us for technical assistance and consulting, because we can give them some good advice on how to promote the leather business. There are several cooperation options on the agenda. We can offer them the entire technological chain of processing hides. We will visit tanneries, have a look at the quality of hides. The same is about cotton. There is a fairly large enterprise here. Therefore, we will also discuss how much they can supply to the Belarusian market,” the head of the concern said.

Tatiana Lugina also shared the details of the upcoming meeting with the head of the local police. “We have brought large catalogs, samples of our fabrics with special properties, various finishes. We have also brought samples of our special-purpose footwear, which can be used by paramilitary structures and by special-purpose units,” the head of the Bellegprom concern emphasized.

It is necessary to try to work in any market, Tatiana Lugina is sure. “And today Africa is the continent that many economies in the world are setting their sights on. And we should not be an exception,” she added.

Of course, this is not all the results of the Belarus-Zimbabwe cooperation forum. There is a lot of work ahead, a number of issues need to be discussed, including at the level of the heads of state. But each representative of the Belarusian delegation came to Harare with their proposals and interests. We will learn new details of the visit of the Belarusian head of state already in the coming days; other outcomes might be known later when the parties reconcile their positions. Indeed, in the turbulent time like now, not only money loves silence, but also business contracts.

Photos by Maksim Guchek

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