By Taka Shambare
Victoria Falls (New Ziana) – Zimbabwe and Botswana said on Thursday they had identified deeper economic cooperation as the cornerstone of stronger relations between the two Southern African neighbours.
Opening the Ministerial session of the 3rd Zimbabwe/ Botswana Bi-National Commission here, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Minister Frederick Shava said economic cooperation was an important aspect of relations between the two countries.
“Economic cooperation should form an important pillar in our bilateral relations. I have noted that the level of bilateral trade was on a downward trend in 2020 and this is unacceptable considering that we are neighbours. The level of our economic cooperation is similarly worrying,” he said.
“We need to redouble our efforts in this area by concluding negotiations on the enabling legal instruments and agenda items under consideration during this session of the BNC.
“There should not be any further delays in concluding instruments like the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement; the MoU on Cooperative Development and Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development; and the MoU on Economic, Trade and Investment Promotion, among others. These instruments when finalised have the potential to improve economic and trade relations between our two countries.”
Shava said outstanding economic cooperation projects also ought to be quickly implemented.
“I have noted that it has taken long for us to come to a common understanding regarding the need to upgrade the Plumtree-Ramokgwebana Border Post into a One-Stop Border Post. We already enjoy the benefits of such a facility; with the one between Zimbabwe and Zambia at Chirundu, and between Botswana and Zambia at Kazungula. A One-Stop Border Post facilitates trade through reduced transit time for freight and passengers, and transport costs,” he said.
According to trade promotion body Zimtrade, Zimbabwe’s total exports to Botswana were US$19.2 million in 2018 against Botswana’s total import bill of US$ 4.4 billion.
This is despite Zimbabwe’s proximity to Botswana, which makes it easy to land products in that country.
A market survey conducted by ZimTrade in Botswana in 2019 revealed a potential for local businesses to supply an array of products and services including processed foods and fresh produce, pork products, agricultural implements and inputs, building materials, and mining supplies.
Meanwhile, Shava said cooperation in other areas including the health sector were also crucial, particularly in the face of the current Covid-19 pandemic.
“One of the yardsticks for measuring progress in the work of the BNC is the signing of Agreements and Memoranda of Understanding. I have been briefed that some Agreements and Memoranda of Understanding are ready for signing tomorrow in the presence of our Principals.
“Though the signing is commendable, it is not an end in itself. The real benefits of these legal instruments derive from their diligent implementation. What we seek is to bolster our bilateral cooperation and the realisation of the aspirations of our peoples through the diligent implementation of concluded Agreements and Memoranda of Understanding,” he said.
“I am equally pleased that since the signing of the MoU on cooperation in Health matters at the last Session in Maun in February 2020, we have never looked back. Cooperation in health matters has become more urgent with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and the threat of future pandemics. Covid-19 brought to the fore the weakness in our health systems and Africa’s over-dependence on imported medicines and vaccines. We need to come together and develop local pharmaceutical industries.”
Zimbabwe and Botswana upgraded their relations from a Joint Commission to Bi-National Commission in 2018 in a move that has seen the Presidents of both nations meeting annually to digest important socio-political and economic matters.