Did you know about the new duty on imported books? Books have now gone from zero duty (as per international convention) to 40% duty (including on shipping costs) plus $1 per kilogram (plus the 15% VAT that was applicable before).As books are heavy this $1 per kilo is a significant extra charge on top of the duty. This would certainly appear to be a violation of Zimbabwe’s international obligations under UNESCO's Florence Agreement on the Importation of Educational Material.
The inclusion of books was very unclear in Statutory Instrument 92 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. This new duty will see 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
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.
Charities and NGOs may be able to obtain exemptions from duties, but the reality of such a high tax on essential school books and reading materials will be 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. ZIMRA have advised that if the wrong tariff is applied then it is deemed fraudulent and 100% duty level will be charged. However they are unable to give clear guidelines of what exactly is covered in the new tariffs.
Zimbabwe is to realize and revive a reading culture, and a culture of creativity, the availability of a wide range of affordable books is essential. Importing books, and the ability of local publishers to print outside the country, is a way of making books available and affordable for schools and the public. The cost of printing per book drops dramatically when a large number of books are printed. Hence local publishers sometimes have a common print run with South African publishers in order to keep book prices low, as the market for most books is small in both countries. The new duty will either cause the prices to rise dramatically or for the books not to be published at all. It will be more expensive to print a lower volume of books, which will, in turn, have an impact on the distribution of the work of Zimbabwean writers locally, regionally and internationally. Local printers could print set school texts, though probably at a somewhat higher price, as there is a demand for these books. However, books with only a limited readership (including most general literature and specialist books) will remain printed outside the country and will only be available here at a prohibitive price. Bookshops will only bring in guaranteed sellers, which will further constrain access to the wealth and breadth of knowledge that books give us –and this includes regional materials as well as international.
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 for schools will be a shortage of books, 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 being 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 and machinery need to be imported. Such measures, which are supposed to be protective of local in duty, act to the detriment of schools, children, the public at large and the development of the country. This change 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.
t seems again to be a poorly thought out course of action taken with no consultation, which will have a negative impact throughout all society, at all levels. The previous Minister of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture, David Colt art, tweeted:' The dramatic increase on the duty on books -from 0 to 40%-is going to destroy our libraries, reading culture, and the education of our children.'
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