The concerns were raised on the basis of statistics presented before parliament by the Minister of Industries, Trade and Investment, Charles Mwijage, when presenting the ministry’s budget estimates for the 2018/19 financial year.
In his presentation, Mwijage said exports of goods to China dropped to $142.3 million in 2017 from $355.9 million in 2016.
Exports to East African Community (EAC) countries also declined to $349.6 million in 2017 from $437.7 million in 2016, while exports to the United States (US) fell from $139.2 million in 2016 to $75.7 million in 2017, and exports of goods to Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states fell from $1,017.9 million in 2016 to $877.8 million in 2017, the minister disclosed.
He attributed the declining exports figures for the SADC bloc to a weakening gold market in South Africa.
"The country's exports of goods in the US market declined following a sales drop in precious metal ores, tea, coffee and cotton. The same thing occurred in China where the market of precious metal ores also droped," he said.
"However, Tanzanian exports to India rose to $977.6 million in 2017 from $706.4 million in 2016. Exports in EU countries also rose to $441.4 million in 2017 from $236.5 million recorded in 2016. This is attributable to an increase of finished products exports," Mwijage added.
Meanwhile, he said, imports continued to rise during 2017, standing at $1,630.2 million from China from $1,408.1 million the year before. The same situation occurred in European Union (EU) countries from where imports of goods rose from $557.7 million in 2016 to $936.1 million in 2017.
Debating the minister’s presentation, Kigoma Urban MP Zitto Kabwe (ACT-Wazalendo) criticised what he called the government’s "poor commitment" to transforming the country’s industrial sector.
According to Zitto, there are no strategies to raise production especially of sunflower, cotton, and palm oil in place so that the country can stop depending on imported cooking oil.
"It is such a shame that the country lacks a national strategy to strengthen and promote the cultivation of important crops that will help increase production of cooking oil within the country... it is such a shame to have to import huge amounts of cooking oil from abroad," the MP asserted.
He said the country has lost up to $1billion in the past two years due to the drop in manufactured goods exports, and called on minister Mwijage to resign “as he has failed to push the industrial sector forward.”
“Foreign trade is power," Zitto stressed.
The Speaker of the National Assembly, Job Ndugai, also chimed in by urging officials in the ministry, including Mwijage himself, to travel more to other countries to learn lessons and search for reliable export markets.
CCM Special Seats MP Kiteto Koshuma also called on the government to come up with a strong strategic plan for the industrial sector.
"The industrialisation goal is not new. The initiatives commenced during the era of late Julius Nyerere. What I'm urging the government now is to put more focus on reviving all the industries which were privatised," Koshuma said.