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Cablegate: Only Modest Exporter Relief in Rbz Statement

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HARARE 000690

SIPDIS

STATE FOR AF/S
NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR JFRAZER
USDOC FOR AMANDA HILLIGAS
TREASURY FOR OREN WYCHE-SHAW
PASS USTR FLORIZELLE LISER
STATE PASS USAID FOR MARJORIE COPSON

E. O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON EAID BTIO EINV PGOV ZI
SUBJECT: Only Modest Exporter Relief in RBZ Statement

1. Summary: Reserve Bank (RBZ) Governor Gideon Gono's
second policy statement disappointed much of the business
community. While he took credit for more restrictive
money supply, lower inflation and more realistic interest
rates, Gono did not relieve exporters of a large de facto
revenue tax. He also suggested the GOZ would continue
selective "witch hunts" on persons who traded on the
parallel currency market. End Summary.

Not Much For Exporters
----------------------
2. The flamboyant Gono spoke on April 22 for the second
time since taking control of the RBZ last December 1.
Expectations were high that he would eliminate or begin
to phase out the requirement that exporters remit 25
percent of earnings at Z$824:US$, about one-sixth the
going rate. Coupled with an overvalued auction rate,
this mandatory conversion has rendered many exporters
uncompetitive. The Embassy has heard dozens of
disgruntled sagas from once-competitive exporters. Even
members of Gono's handpicked advisory board told us they
anticipated the RBZ governor would announce an end or
phase out of the Z$824:US$ rate.

3. As for the twice-weekly forex auctions, Gono failed to
assure exporters the RBZ would accept the principle that
the high bid wins, in accordance with its own guidelines.
The RBZ has manipulated the auction rate not only by
setting a minimum-acceptable bid, but by rejecting higher
bids under the pretext that they are not for priority
imports. We know of at least one case when the RBZ asked
a bidder to lower his submission, assuring he would
secure forex for fewer zimdollars. Finally, Gono did not
grant exporters the right to reject bids, as many had
sought.

4. Gono did offer two modest new advantages for
exporters. First, they will not have to accept a rate
lower than Z$5,200:US$. While he indicated this rate
would be "reviewed periodically," he did not say whether
it would keep up with the auction rate or inflation.
Second, exporters that advance export proceeds to the RBZ
may retain 80 percent in forex and exchange the other 20
percent at the auction rate, relieving them of the
mandatory Z$824:US$ requirement. It is not clear how
many exporters can take advantage of this arrangement.
In any event, it favors large companies and
multinationals - which may be able to front the forex
several months before payment - over emerging or small
exporters.

Positive Aspects
----------------
5. In fairness, Gono has reached several important
milestones during his five-month tenure. Through his
televised addresses and follow-up question & answer
sessions, he has enhanced transparency at the RBZ. His
policing of banks and asset management companies, a
responsibility ignored by his predecessors at RBZ and the
Finance Ministry, is restoring investor credibility. He
is applying noticeable pressure on ministries and
parastatals to live within means and budgets. In keeping
with lower inflation, he seems to have reduced money
supply growth from around 500 to 250 percent since he
took office (statistics are not yet out). Other than a
30 percent loan facility to the "productive sector," Gono
has generally defended positive interest rates as an
important tool for reducing inflation.

6. On inflation, Gono congratulates himself for
"burst[ing] the bubble of runaway inflation" and claims
to have scaled back inflation from 33.6 percent in
November 2003 to 5.9 percent in March 2004. This may be
slightly gratuitous. March 2003 inflation - the
conventional comparator - was only 8.8 percent.
Zimbabwean inflation typically peaks at year-end.

Other Notes
-----------
7. In addition, Gono:

- offered Zimbabweans abroad the advantageous Z$5200:US$
rate for transfers to relatives. But again, he gave no
objective criteria for readjusting this rate.

- decided to leave negative interest productive sector
loans in tact, though the rate will rise from 30 to 50
percent on July 1. While he wants to make the facility
revolving, high inflation will rapidly eat away at
available funds. During its March visit, the IMF urged
Gono to end this speculator's haven.

- declined to support amnesty for parallel market
traders. Aggressive GOZ prosecution for an offense
practiced by all but the poorest Zimbabweans has become a
quasi-witch hunt under the guise of anti-corruption.
(Gono's own bank was an ambitious parallel market
trader.) The RBZ's pursuit of these traders has dampened
parallel market activity, sort of a shotgun approach to
currency stabilization. At a minimum, many Zimbabweans
hoped Gono would support amnesty for trading prior to his
taking office.

- repeated GOZ distortions that foreign tourist arrivals
increased from 739,284 in 2002 to 1,089,256 in 2003. As
Zimbabwe Tourist Authority president Shingi Munyeza has
told us, foreign tourist arrivals have decreased each
year since 2000 and are off about 80 percent in total.
The Government is probably including multiple trips by
cross-border traders. (Tourism revenue has dropped from
US$140 to 44 million and hotel occupancy from 65-70 to 40
percent since 1999.) Gono realizes foreign tourists are
not returning to Zimbabwe but likely wants to pressure
the sector to remit forex earnings.

- found it "disheartening" that banks had not acceded to
his wish that they begin to work Wednesday afternoons
(known in banking circles as golfing afternoons). He
seems to believe it is the RBZ governor's right to
dictate opening hours to private banks.

Comment
-------
8. For whatever reason, Gono does not appreciate the woes
of exporters and the harm an overvalued currency does to
export-driven growth. This is unfortunate, since
Zimbabwe's four top sectors - agriculture, mining,
manufacturing and tourism - all have heavy export
components. In his speech, Gono devoted several minutes
to Japan's post-World War II economic boom powered by
exports. But he failed to note the role that a fairly
valued (or undervalued) currency played in Japan's
ascent. Like governments in several other developing
countries, Zimbabwe's relies excessively on the exchange
rate as a determinant of economic health. It will be a
tough habit to break.

Sullivan

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