Most manufacturers distribute their products through wholesalers or agents. Price plays a significant role in purchasing decisions, along with quality and durability. There are no specific labeling requirements on most goods, with the exceptions of medicines and goods meant for human consumption. Labeling may be in any language; however, Malawi’s official language is English. Chichewa is the most prominent of seven national languages. All labels are required to list ingredients and expiration dates.
Trade Promotion and Advertising
Sellers advertise their products and services through a variety of media including road-side signs, billboards, and
Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) TV is the oldest television station and is funded and controlled by the government of Malawi but has recently lost popularity to Zodiak TV, Mibawa TV, and Times TV. These stations primarily serve urban areas in Malawi. Only the affluent subscribe to pay TV, be it digital-over-the-air (GoTV) or satellite (Zuku, DSTV, AZAM). The government established the Malawi Digital Broadcast Network Limited (MDBNL) to provide signal distribution services to all licensed content providers. MDBNL packages content from service providers into bouquets and operates and maintains digital broadcasting networks through which content is distributed and delivered to consumers. MDBNL owns and sells ‘kiliye kiliye’ digital decoders, which offer all local TVs and radio stations, and a few international channels at a standard monthly subscription fee of K4,000 (US$3.80).
The MITC and the Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI) provide information on upcoming fair trade, agricultural shows, and investment forums. The MCCCI is also a forum for advertising and trade promotion.
Prices for goods are generally market-determined. Lower priced goods tend to sell well due to the low-income levels of most Malawians. The arrival of inexpensive Chinese-made products negatively impacted sales for many local and western-made products. Pricing structures that include the cost of international and domestic transportation, customs duties, and value-added tax of 16.5 percent contribute to final prices.
The state-owned Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (ADMARC) often intervenes in the maize market to stabilize prices. With a declared intent of protecting poor farmers and alleviating poverty, the government also intervenes in the marketing of tobacco, cotton, and tea by setting price floor, though in most cases traders do not comply with the minimum prices. The pricing of petroleum products and utilities is strictly regulated.
The Competition and Fair-Trading Commission is an autonomous agency of the government established to regulate, monitor, control, and prevent acts or behaviors that would adversely affect competition and fair trading in Malawi. The Commission ensures businesses are operating in a free market where they can set prices as they wish but do not take advantage of customers. The Commission handles cases where consumers complain of unfair trade practices, including setting unnecessarily high prices. Such cases have risen due to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting global supply chain disruptions. The Consumer Association of Malawi is vocal in ensuring consumers are offered fair prices for the value of goods and services consumed.
Sales Service/Customer Support
Major retailers offer guarantees and discounts on purchases of durable household items such as stoves, electronics, refrigerators, and televisions. After-sales services and customer support are common in the ICT and automobile industries. Several companies and agents in Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu, and Zomba offer sales and customer support services.
Local Professional Services
Local professional services are easily accessible for the following areas: accounting (ICAM) and auditing (MAB), engineering (MIEMW), law (Law Society), architecture, surveying (Surveyors Institute of Malawi), economists (ECAMA), nurses and midwives’ council (NMCM), and medicine (Medical Council). Three international professional auditing firms have offices in Malawi - Deloitte Malawi, Ernst and Young, and AMG Global.
Principal Business Associations
Several professional and business bodies play key roles in Malawi’s economic governance. These bodies are well respected by both private Malawians and the government. The most prominent and influential include:
- The Economics Association of Malawi (ECAMA at http://www.ecamamw.com/)
- Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI )
- Chamber for Small and Medium Business Associations
- National Association of Businesswomen
- The Institute of Chartered Accountants in Malawi (ICAM)
- The Malawi Institute of Engineers (MIEMW)
- The Bankers Association of Malawi (BAM)
- The Consumers Association of Malawi
- The Employers Consultative Association of Malawi
- The Malawi Institute of Procurement and Supply (MIPS) at http://www.mips.mw/.
- Malawi Law Society (MLS)
U.S. companies can benefit from joining or consulting the Law Society and the Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI). As a broad-based, multi-sector group, MCCCI may be particularly helpful to U.S. companies interested in entering the Malawi market.
Limitations on Selling U.S. Products and Services
Pursuant to the Land Act of 2016, foreigners are not permitted to acquire freehold land; foreigners are able to secure lease-hold land for terms of up to 50 years, and potentially longer. Foreigners can only secure private land when no citizen has made an offer for the land and the law prohibits the passing of land by way of gift between persons who are not citizens of Malawi. In 2022, the government of Malawi amended the land act of 2016 and other land related acts: Land (Amendment) Act, Land Survey (Amendment), Physical Planning (Amendment), Registered Land (Amendment), Land Acquisition and Compensation (Amendment), and Customary Land (Amendment). Each amendment added new restrictions on ownership and land acquisition by foreigners. The final regulations to the amendments are due in late 2023. Per the new amendments, land will not be sold to a foreigner unless the person meets Investment and Trade Centre (MITC) conditions of an investor. Non-Malawians with land will have their land until their leases expire and leases will only be renewed if they satisfy MITC investor requirements. Any application to change the use of piece of land for agricultural to residential or commercial should be granted on condition that the lessee surrenders 50 percent of the land to government control subject to payment of appropriate compensation and no sale of vacant land shall be allowed. Mining regulations limit small-scale prospecting and mining operations to Malawians and foreigners who have resided in Malawi for a minimum of four years.
In the case of the privatization of any state-run entity, Malawi Stock Exchange regulations limit participation of an individual foreign portfolio investor to a maximum of 10 percent of any class or category of security under the privatization program and limit maximum total foreign investment in any portfolio to 49 percent. When a state-run entity is privatized, Malawian nationals are offered preferential treatment, including discounted share prices and subsidized credit. Subsidized credit carries a precondition that the shares or assets be retained for at least two years.
Retail operations in rural areas are de facto limited to Malawian citizens.