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Importers abandon merchandise as duty payments soar

Zimbabwean importers were caught off guard last week after customs duty payments went up by almost 6,700% following the floatation of Zimbabwe's domestic currency on the official market.

The Zimbabwe dollar dropped from a fixed rate of $30,000 to the US dollar to around $200 million to the US unit at the close of the week, after opening trade under a new foreign exchange regime at $160 million: US$1.

The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA), which had been using a lower exchange rate of Z$285,000 to the US dollar, immediately embraced the official exchange rate, forcing customs duty payments upward.

Many importers, including cross border traders, grocery shoppers and importers of second hand Japanese vehicles from South Africa were forced to abandon their merchandise at the Beitbridge border post after failing to raise duty.

A car dealer who spoke to bizcommunity.com from Beitbridge described the situation as chaotic, insisting hundreds of people had been forced to leave their goods at the border because duty payments had become “excessively exorbitant”.

“I am leaving the minibus that I brought from Durban because I can't pay the duty. They want me to pay over $1 trillion and I don't have that money,” said the car dealer, declining to be named for security reasons. “I had budgeted $1.4 billion for duty payments and not this.”

Sources said the situation was equally bad at the Plumtree border post with Botswana but indicated those affected were mainly cross border hawkers and shoppers.

Zimbabwe's central bank let up currency controls in an unprecedented move aimed at boosting exports and encouraging foreign currency inflows into the official market, which had been largely shunned because of the unrealistic pricing of the fixed Zimbabwe dollar.

Rates at the once-thriving parallel foreign currency market had moved to catch up with new official exchange rates, with dealers on the illegal market vowing that the new system was unlikely to kill their market.

About Dumisani Ndlela

Dumisani Ndlela is a Zimbabwean journalist specialising in business and financial reporting, with experience reporting on commodities, stock and financial markets, advertising, marketing and the media. He has previously reported from a number of regional countries as well as from the UK and Germany on commodities and regional integration. He can be contacted on ku.oc.oohay@aleldnd.

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