The Ministry of Trade and Industry is one of the first ministries to emerge as independent ministries after Lesotho got independence in 1966. At that time, the Ministry was known as the Ministry of Commerce and Industry and as the name indicates; its mandate was on those issues. Around 1967, the mandate of the Ministry was expanded to include finance and this caused the name of the Ministry to change to Ministry of Finance, Commerce and Industry.
After about eight years, around 1975, the mandate was changed and the Ministry was no longer responsible for finance, hence the name changed back to Ministry of Commerce and Industry. During this time, the Ministry regulated all trading activities, including liquor licensing but excluding trade in agricultural products.
Once again after about eight years, in 1983 the Ministry was given the mandate on tourism issues and the name changed to Trade, Industry and Tourism. This however did not subsist for long as in 1987, tourism was removed and the Ministry was, for the first time after independence, known as the Ministry of Trade and Industry. The Ministry during the period after 1987 had two main departments – The Department of Trade and the Department of Industry. The Department of Trade further had a “Consumer Protection Section” while the Department of Industry had a “Standards Section”.
Both Sections were later merged under the Department of Trade but in 1996, the Standards Section was detached from the Consumer Section and with nine substantive officials, the need to graduate into a department was evident. Ten years later, in 2006 the Standards Section graduated into the Department of Standards and Quality Assurance.
Around 1999, the mandate of the Ministry once again expanded to include marketing, a function that was previously performed by the Ministry of Agriculture, and so this caused the name to change to “Ministry of Industry, Trade and Marketing”. About four years later, the mandate was further increased to include cooperatives and the Ministry became the “Ministry of Trade and Industry, Cooperatives and Marketing”.
By 2007, the Ministry had six core departments namely the Departments of Trade, Industry, Cooperatives, Marketing, Standards and Quality Assurance and One-Stop Business Facilitation Centre commonly known as OBFC. OBFC was established in September 2007, to bring together departments and institutions that provide services to the business community and investors in order to streamline and expedite provision and issuance of services, that is, traders and manufacturing licences, work permits and residents permits as well as import and export permits to both domestic and foreign direct investors; the main purpose was to decrease time and cost of starting and doing business in Lesotho.
Furthermore, the Ministry continues to monitor and oversee the activities of the Lesotho National Development Corporation. LNDC was first established in 1967 to facilitate economic expansion and development in various sectors especially manufacturing, mining, generation and supply of electric power, conservation and supply of water, agriculture and tourism by attracting investment, particularly foreign direct investment.
From 1980 to 2012, the Ministry was also charged with monitoring the operations of The Basotho Enterprise Development Corporation (BEDCO), a parastatal which started as a project under an Agreement between the Kingdom of Lesotho and the Government of Canada in May 1975; the project was funded by the Government of Canada. When the project ended, BEDCO was established by an Act of Parliament in 1980. The purpose of BEDCO was to encourage the development of Basotho owned enterprises in the production of goods or provision of services. To this end BEDCO activities included the training and financing of Basotho Enterprises, supplying technical and marketing assistance and providing industrial Parks and Business Units. BEDCO operating budget was provided by Canada.
In 2015, the mandate of the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Cooperatives and Marketing (MTI) was changed such that the functions of marketing and cooperatives were removed from the Ministry of Trade and Industry; consequently, the Ministry once again assumed the name the – “Ministry of Trade and Industry”.
The Ministry has four departments that have different trade related functions and the Department of Administration which comprises of support divisions namely Human Resources, Accounts, Procurement, Internal Audit, Communication, Information Technology, Administration, Legal and Planning. The departments are: Department of Trade; Department of Industry; Department of Standards and Quality Assurance and One-Stop Business Facilitation Centre. The Ministry of Trade and Industry is mandated to carry out government responsibility in trade and trade related matters.
The Ministry of Trade and Industry is present in all ten districts of Lesotho with an additional office in Maputsoe. The services provided in the district offices include, provision of application forms for traders licences, issuance and renewal of traders licenses. Further consumer complaints can be reported at these offices. More services, i.e. incorporation and registration of companies, issuance and renewal of manufacturing licences, import permits, export visas etc. are provided at the Headquarters in the Capital Maseru.