The Ministry of Trade and Industry has developed the National Trade Policy Framework together with its requisite strategy, the National Export Strategy, both spanning for the period 2021-2025.
This was revealed by the Finance Minister Thabo Sophonea yesterday while presenting the 2022/23 budget.
Sophonea said the Strategy is meant to strengthen capacities of producers and service providers in strategic export potential sectors.
He said these include Horticulture; Textiles and Apparel; and Light Industries to take advantage of market access opportunities provided under arrangements such as African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), Southern African Development Community (SADC), European Unioin (EU) and African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
â€œThe implementation of the National Trade Facilitation Roadmap is ongoing to improve movement of goods and services across borders, thereby, reducing cost and time of doing business,â€ he said.
Sophonea said in pursuit of smooth investment and business climate, the government through its online business licencing and registration has improved the time and costs of doing business.
He said to date, 24 large manufacturing licences have been issued and a modest creation of 500 jobs attained adding that the online business registrations and licence renewals stand at 1,280 and 161,538 respectively.
â€œAn online platform has been developed to enable cross border traders to process import and export permits remotely adding that the government in collaboration with other stakeholders will also launch a National Single Window Platform.
â€œAlso, the Draft Competition Bill has been presented to Parliament with an intension to regulate anti-competitive behaviour of firms and traders,â€ Sophonea said.
He said the government is also in the process of developing Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises’ (MSME) policy which will create an enabling environment for development and growth of small businesses in the country adding, a data management system to register all MSMEs has been developed.
Sophonea further noted the government through the assistance of the African Development Bank has launched the Business Plan Competition where around 50 youth start-up businesses will be funded with M100,000 each.
He said in the coming fiscal year, the Government of Lesotho shall continue to support the revival of the economy through supporting Private Sector Investment, and growing MSMEs especially women and youth.
â€œWe should also continue to tap on the capabilities of the diaspora to promote investment and improve service delivery in health, education and other sectors,â€ he said.
Sophonea said prior to the advent of COVID-19, MSMEs used to contribute significantly to employment and in sustaining the livelihoods of many Basotho.
He said however, MSMEs have been hit hard by COVID-19 and continue to face enormous challenges that inhibit their impact on growth.
â€œTo redress this situation, the Government is in the process of signing a loan agreement with International Development Association (IDA), and Global Risk Financing Facility to the tune of M725 million to support private sector investment and increase access to business services and financial products targeted at MSMEs. Of this amount, M435 million has been earmarked for scaling support for women and youth entrepreneurship.â€
He said this facility is targeted at enhancing government to Business digital services, building private sector resilience, and scaling support for entrepreneurship and MSMEs.
â€œThis will be attained through establishing an Entrepreneurship Hub and Seed Financing Facility, scaling the Lesotho Enterprise Assistance Program (LEAP) for MSMEs, and expanding MSMEs participation in High Potential Value Chains.â€
He indicated that the seed financing facility will provide competitive matching grants for entrepreneurs with milestones for monitoring progress to the tune of M75,000 for new small start-up businesses, and M750,000 for larger investments in start-ups that demonstrate traction.
He said businesses flourish and create jobs in an environment that is stable, competitive and is characterized by predictable regulations and laws.
â€œThe Government will therefore continue to amplify efficiency and security of Business Licensing and Registration systems and further enhance systems integration across Government ministries.
Government will implement Collateral Registry to expand Single Window access to finance, the Lesotho platform to facilitate cross border trade and will enhance efficiency of construction permits and land administration systems. To this effect, the Government has set aside M255 million to pursue these Investment Climate Reforms.â€
Sophonea said COVID-19 has provided people with remarkable lessons, including the value of technology and automated systems.
He said countries that have automated systems suffered less disruptions in workflows and those that did not, suffered immense productivity declines. The Government of Lesotho has taken COVID-19 as both a pandemic and an opportunity.
â€œThe Government has therefore prepared the Digital Transformation Strategy to be implemented in 2022/23.â€
â€œThe strategy will guide government Investments in digitalizing services and payments in order to enhance efficiency of public service delivery and minimise leakages.â€
Sophonea said COVID-19 has worsened the countryâ€™s unemployment situation, and will potentially reverse the poverty reduction gains made during the past years.
â€œThe Government has facilitated private sector investment to the tune of M267.4 million with different projects to start this financial year, and these projects are just awaiting completion of factory space at Ha–Belo industrial estate project in Butha-Buthe, which is expected to be completed in June 2022,â€ he said adding that if successfully implemented these projects will create over 6,000 jobs.