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September 30 2015


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 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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