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Monday, September 21, 2015

Duty on books

We would like to draw your attention to the new duties being imposed on ALL books imported into Zimbabwe from the 1St September 2015.  Whilst we are aware that Zimbabwe did not sign the Florence Agreement, until recently as a country it has complied with the intent of the protocols contained. 


The inclusion of books was very unclear in SI92 of 2015, as a single line Tariff Code (covering books) was included in a long list of other goods (cooking oil, fertilizers, business stationery and furnishings).  The relevant Tariff Code of 4901.9900 is only shown as "other" and one needs to look up the Zimra Tariff Book to ascertain that books are subject to this large duty increase. 


From current feedback it seems that the public, schools and even Ministry of Education may be unaware of this, despite the negative impact it will have on schools, children and education.  There appears to have been no consultation with the education sector on the impact this will have.


Whilst we understand that many charities and NGOs are able to obtain exemptions from duties, the reality of such a high tax on essential school books and reading materials will have an extreme effect on prices for the general public.  The new tariff appears to include exercise books as well as text books and reading books. 


This change in tariff was Gazetted in Statutory Instrument 92 of 2015 in August and took effect on 1 September 2015.  Any book shipments that have been placed before this Gazetting are now to be subject to punitive duties.  The wording around books is unclear and as it is only now that the duty is taking effect.  Arriving consignments are being held up whilst clearing agents try to find a common consensus with ZIMRA on what is subject to the duty and levies.


If Zimbabwe is to realize and revive a Reading Culture, the availability of a wide range of affordable books is essential.


This new Duty charge will see all imported books increase in price by around 50 to 60% - books are already expensive, and this new duty will place books in the category of luxuries.


Schools who seek to buy textbooks will have to pay more money from their limited budgets - schools cannot increase fees and are struggling to raise funds - the School Improvement Grants are already small relative to what schools need in order to refurbish and restock.


The net effect will be a shortage of books for schools & children, constraining teachers' ability to teach and ultimately harming children's education.


Wide range reading, which is the key to developing literacy in children, will become a thing of the past for all but the children of the wealthy.


The reason for the change in duty has been explained as necessary to protect our local printing industry and local publishers.  However print costs in Zimbabwe are high due to the fact that all paper/ink/machinery need to be imported.  Zimbabwe does not have a competitive advantage in the printing industry, and protective measures such as these serve only the narrow interests of the locally owned printers, to the detriment of schools, children and the public at large.  This does not protect local publishers anyway, who could previously have their books printed outside the country if they deemed it more cost-effective- it is notable that the Longmans textbooks acquired for the ETF textbook provision were printed outside Zimbabwe.


The availability of imported books, or the ability of local publishers to print outside the country, is the only practical way to make books affordable for schools and the public. Local printers will now have no competitive pressures to contain their costs and prices.


It is ironic that we have just celebrated World Literacy Day as the new Duties place quality books out of the reach of the vast majority of the nation.


We are lobbying for an exemption on educational books and resources and would ask that if you feel this duty is unacceptable, that you make your views known to the Ministry of Education, or their representative.


Kind Regards, Emma O Beirne



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