From June 20 to 29 this year, the Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI) held the 27th Malawi International Trade Fair (Mitf) under the theme ‘Productivity: A key to Exploiting Export Opportunities’. Malawi is striving to increase its export base. In this interview, The Nation Deputy Editor AUBREY MCHULU engages Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) Commissioner of Customs and Excise Shadric Namalomba on whether the export drive is on track and more. Excerpts:
. This year’s Malawi International Trade Fair (Mitf) is over now. The theme this year was ‘Productivity: A key to Exploiting Export Opportunities’. At the same time, as a country, we seem to be seeking to transform from a predominantly importing and consuming economy to a producing and exporting one. Are we making progress? What is your take?
. In fact, it is encouraging that the private sector through the Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI) strategically chose that theme for this year’s fair.
The theme was in line with the country’s goals to increase productivity aimed at export markets so that we earn more foreign exchange and stabilise our economy as set under the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy II (MGDSII).
. But we seem to be good at talking more and doing less. Are we getting there?
. Of course we have been slow in trying to turn the tables because Malawi continues to import more than what it exports. For example, in 2012 we earned $1.2 billion in exports, but this was crowded out by the $2.7 billion paid out for imports.
This means that we have to rapidly transform ourselves by adding value to our products and producing more for local consumption as well as exports. Here, we are looking at having high quality exports by rolling the tobacco leaves into cigarettes, processing tea and coffee and exporting it in well branded packages.
We also need to have more ginneries to process cotton into textiles and clothes as well as employing simple technologies to process legumes into seed oil and so on. I believe such a turnaround will definitely surge the demand for Malawi’s products and earn us more dollars as a country and enabling us to reverse the trade deficit challenge that we have.
But for this to work seamlessly, the industries must be re-organised in such a way that will allow large businesses, farmers, the government, the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), women, the youth as well as the academicians working in harmony and feed into the supply chain of our industries.
Malawi offers numerous incentives to transform the productive sector in form of accelerated capital allowances, investment allowances, duty rebates, various tax allowances and in certain special cases tax holidays and waivers, which the business community must take advantage of.
. Many people knew Shadric Namalomba as the auditor and business adviser. But now you are a tax man, so to speak. MRA or tax collectors in general are perceived as existing to punish entrepreneurs. What do you say?
. Well, as a tax collector, I can assure you that MRA has not been sitting on its laurels waiting for entrepreneurs to struggle and then pounce on them for every little earnings they have made.
As a revenue collector, it is also our role to make sure that enough room is created to facilitate trade. Facilitation of trade means enabling traders to move goods in and out without delays and with minimal costs. When we facilitate trade we help businesses to earn more and pay more in form of import taxes as well as consumption taxes.
It is, therefore, in the interest of MRA to facilitate trade and to this effect we have embarked on a number of initiatives. For example, MRA is working closely with the Malawi Investment and Trade Centre (Mitc) and has produced an Exporters’ Guide. This booklet is specially designed to empower exporters to understand the export environment in which they operate in so that they achieve growth and improve their business apart from clearly stating the required export procedures.
On the other hand, as a considerate Authority, following requests from exporters to clear their export consignments in bulk, MRA introduced new procedures for bulk exports effective June 1 2014. This is also designed to facilitate trade and reduce time spent on borders.
. How best then must the business community interface with MRA to benefit from the trade facilitation programmes?
. The basics matter in every operation and the business community must ensure that they are aware of their rights and obligations as exporters to ensure a speedy clearance of exports to minimise delays. There are also procedures to follow to iron out some misunderstandings that the exporter may have with MRA.
These details are contained in the Exporters’ Guide, which I said earlier is out and will be launched very soon. The guide also has a list of export incentives that the Malawi Government offers to exporters to encourage more exports and value addition to make the whole export business more profitable.
Overall, the private sector must not hesitate but to come to any of our offices for information. For convenience sake, as this is a digital age, MRA is available on Facebook and Twitter. Our website www.mra.mw is very much alive that it always contains updated information.
. Malawi has more micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), any message to them?
. Even in highly developed economies the MSMEs sector employs more people and as Malawi moves towards more economic activity and growth it will be advisable that operators in this sector always aim high to grow from micro status to even large corporates.