Zim’s trade with Belarus a tiny drop in the ocean
BILATERAL trade figures between Zimbabwe and Belarus have largely been peripheral, accounting for less than 1% of this country’s commerce despite the hyping up of diplomatic relations between Harare and Minsk, a new report by ZimStat has shown.
The eastern European country has since 2019 emerged as one of Zimbabwe’s key allies after Russia, China and the United Arab Emirates as President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration continues with the Look East Policy, a mechanism guiding Harare’s diplomatic interactions and relationships with other countries, which was pursued by his predecessor Robert Mugabe after the country faced international isolation.
According to the Zimbabwe Statistical Agency’s latest trade figures for December, Belarus is neither in Zimbabwe’s top 10 export nor import destinations, raising suspicion that the economic diplomacy between the two countries could be benefiting elites and cronies linked to President Mnangagwa. The country, the statistics show only made it to the top 10 exports in November last year driven by tobacco exports. But on a year-on-year basis, the figures between the two countries remain low.
The ZimStat report titled Trends in External Trade shows that the country’s top 10 export destinations during the period under review include the biggest trading partner South Africa (46.56%), United Arab Emirates, China, Belgium, Mozambique, Zambia, Sudan, Canada, Germany and Botswana closing the list with 0.53%. Other countries collectively account for 10.43%.
On the import side, neighbouring South Africa still maintains poll position, accounting for 40.76% and Hong Kong has the least with 1.14%. Other countries account for 15.34%.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko arrived in Harare on Monday for a historic three-day state visit seen as a follow-up to the US$350 million mega deals signed between the two countries three years ago.
In 2019, the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding establishing a joint permanent commission on co-operation.
There was also a memorandum of understanding on the co-operation, organisation and support of the joint Belarusian and Zimbabwean construction in which the late Foreign Affairs and International Trade minister Sibusiso Moyo represented Zimbabwe while Chief of Presidential Affairs General Colonel Victor Sheiman represented Belarus.
Some of the areas of co-operation that were heralded when the two countries signed a pact include energy, manufacturing, transport, logistics and development of agriculture.
But the absence of a competitive bid on who is supplying equipment such as tractors, and the non-disclosure of term sheets of the deals have raised more eyebrows.
This time around, Zimbabwe and Belarus signed eight agreements in agriculture and energy and these include the establishment of a permanent joint commission which will oversee the implementation of the agreements.
According to ZimTrade, Zimbabwe’s imports from Belarus amounted to US$23.4m in 2021 down from US$30.7m in 2020 and the country mainly imported tractors and fertilisers from Belarus.
Zimbabwe’s exports to Belarus amounted to US$2.5m in 2021 up to November 2022 from US$328 000 during the comparable period in 2020.
Tendai Biti, former Finance minister under the inclusive government whose tenure ended in 2013 and was widely credited for stabilising the economy after it crashed in 2008, said Belarus is here for the exploitation of Zimbabwe’s natural resources and Harare’s diplomatic relations with Belarus mirrored Russia’s growing influence on the African continent.
“Belarus is just here to plunder Zimbabwe. The non-full disclosure of concessions and mining rights that have been granted to the Belarusians speaks to just another scramble for Africa. Zimbabwe is at the dinner table and they are busy knifing it out,” Biti said in an interview with The NewsHawks.
“The second thing is that Belarus is part of the complex Russian ambitious plan for Russification of the world, so when you see Lukashenko you have seen Putin here. So Zimbabwe is being a willing tool in the Putin agenda of destabilising the world.”
According to the ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus, Minsk has established diplomatic relations with 51 of the 54 countries of the African continent and all the states of the Middle East.
“The broadening of cooperation with 67 dynamically developing countries of Africa and Middle East and 11 international regional organisations is gaining an importance for strengthening the so-called ‘far arc of partnership’ as an element of the balanced foreign policy of the Republic of Belarus,” reads a statement on the Belarusian Foreign Affairs ministry.
“Belarus traditionally maintains the relations of friendship and mutual support with African and the Middle East states in a variety of universal international organisations, primarily within the United Nations and the Non-Aligned Movement, and holds observer status in the largest regional organisations, namely the African Union and the Arab League. Cooperation with priority partners in the Middle East and Africa – Egypt, Israel, Syria, South Africa, the Gulf states – maintains its positive trend..”
Belarus held political consultations at the level of deputy foreign ministers with Mozambique and Iraq (June 2021), Egypt (September 2021) and Qatar (September 2021), with Kuwait (November 2021), as well as with the Russian Foreign ministry on issues of cooperation with the countries of Africa and the Middle East (November 2021).
The ministry further says “economic diplomacy” remains of particular importance for the Republic of Belarus, with its export-oriented economy.
“A key area of cooperation between the Republic of Belarus with the countries of Africa in trade and economic sphere is to expand exports of goods and services. A systematic work is conducted to enter new markets in the African continent,” the ministry says.