(Unedited for this blog)
TRADE SURPLUS AND LABOUR
Reports that Zambia in March this year recorded a trade surplus amounting to K 752.9 billion resulting from increased exports in metal products is a good development for the economy. Government should take advantage of this and ensure that the increased trade surplus is sustained and diversified so that the larger percentage can also include processing consumer and capital goods.
There is need for government to take measures that will increase the share of processed capital and consumer goods on trade surplus from 6.6 percent of total exports to around 30 percent. What we are proposing is a workable initiative that can benefit the economy and increase employment levels.
For example according to information obtained from the Central Statistics Office the bulk of the trade surplus (75.1 percent) is from copper cathodes and some refined copper. Again copper and other metal ores such as cobalt account for 19.3 percent of the total trade surplus attributed to raw materials.
Similarly if government can support the non-mining industries to increase the volume of their exports by processing consumer and capital goods it could translate into thousands of jobs being created to meet increased demand. Relying on copper for the bulk of our exports is a risky business transaction that urgently requires to be resolved by supporting non-mining industries to produce high quality products for export.
As we celebrate Labour Day, the trade surplus should also be viewed from a broader perspective. It should be viewed not only in monetary terms, but because it also represents one of the ways that we can use to transfer semi-skilled labour to the modern production systems of processing raw materials to finished goods locally. Currently general trade in raw materials and refined metals account for over ninety percent of the trade surplus, this needs to be changed.
Government support to non-mining industries will help the export economy to move from relying on general trade in copper, to providing rapid growth of the processing trade of non metal commodities that can help to sustain the trade surplus for many years and increase demand for skilled labour. The trade surplus should be used to help create job opportunities for the thousands of un-employed University and College graduates around the country.
Government should also encourage the setting up of labour intensive industries to provide employment opportunities for the backlog of unemployed people and also to help broaden the tax base. Farming, Agro Processing, small scale manufacturing and tooling should be among the priority areas that can help create employment.
Hon. Sakwiba Sikota SC
United Liberal Party (ULP)
May 1, 2010