Agoa re­prieve for Le­sotho

. . . but Amer­i­cans vow to mon­i­tor ‘se­ri­ous’ se­cu­rity sec­tor con­cerns

Lesotho Times - - Front Page - Billy Ntaote

THE United States gov­ern­ment has re­newed Le­sotho’s el­i­gi­bil­ity for trade pref­er­ences un­der the African Growth and Op­por­tu­nity Act (AGOA) for 2016.

How­ever, the Amer­i­cans also ex­pressed “se­ri­ous con­cerns” about the gov­ern­ment’s al­leged fail­ure to ad­here to AGOA governance cri­te­ria, say­ing they would mon­i­tor the im­ple­men­ta­tion of re­forms ahead of the next el­i­gi­bil­ity re­view process.

AGOA gives duty-free and quotafree ac­cess to the US mar­ket to el­i­gi­ble Sub-sa­ha­ran African coun­tries in­clud­ing Le­sotho. The legislation, which was re­newed for 10 years by US law­mak­ers last June, is meant to in­cen­tivise African coun­tries to open their economies and build free mar­kets.

The law ob­li­gates the Amer­i­can pres­i­dent to des­ig­nate coun­tries el­i­gi­ble to ben­e­fit from the trade fa­cil­ity on an an­nual ba­sis af­ter un­der­go­ing a re­view process. Among the main el­i­gi­bil­ity cri­te­ria for the fa­cil­ity are a mar­ket-based econ­omy, rule of law, sys­tems to com­bat cor­rup­tion, and not en­gag­ing in gross vi­o­la­tions of in­ter­na­tion­ally-recog­nised hu­man rights.

In a let­ter ad­dressed to Trade Min­is­ter Joshua Setipa and signed by US Trade Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Am­bas­sador Michael Fro­man, the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment said Le­sotho was deemed el­i­gi­ble for AGOA in 2016.

Part of the let­ter reads: “I am writ­ing to in­form you that Pres­i­dent (Barack) Obama has de­ter­mined that Le­sotho will re­main el­i­gi­ble for trade ben­e­fits un­der AGOA for the 2016 cal­en­dar year.

“Dur­ing the el­i­gi­bil­ity re­view for 2016, how­ever, the US gov­ern­ment iden­ti­fied se­ri­ous con­cerns about the gov­ern­ment of Le­sotho’s ad­her­ence to cer­tain of the AGOA cri­te­ria, which we will con­tinue to mon­i­tor as part of the up­com­ing AGOA el­i­gi­bil­ity re­view process”.

Am­bas­sador Fro­man said to qual­ify for AGOA, a coun­try had to es­tab­lish, “or make con­tin­ual progress” to­wards the es­tab­lish­ment of po­lit­i­cal plu­ral­ism, rule of law and a mar­ket­based econ­omy. He said Le­sotho had made great strides un­der the fa­cil­ity, “in­clud­ing con­tin­ued eco­nomic growth, in­creased trade be­tween our two na­tions and the cre­ation of ap­prox­i­mately 40 000 jobs”.

How­ever, the US gov­ern­ment’s re­view com­mit­tee had taken note of governance in­frac­tions es­pe­cially in the army.

“Dur­ing the el­i­gi­bil­ity re­view pro- cess, how­ever, the US gov­ern­ment re­view com­mit­tee noted that there have been a num­ber of cases of ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings and vi­o­lence re­port­edly linked to Le­sotho’s mil­i­tary forces for which there has been no ap­par­ent pros­e­cu­tion, rais­ing ques­tions about Le­sotho’s ad­her­ence to AGOA cri­te­ria re­lat­ing to re­spect for hu­man rights and rule of law,” said Am­bas­sador Fro­man.

“There also ap­pear to be cred­i­ble re­ports of tor­ture by Le­sotho’s mil­i­tary forces for which no one has ap­par­ently been held ac­count­able, rais­ing fur­ther such ques­tions.”

He said, dur­ing its cur­rent re­view cy­cle, the US gov­ern­ment would mon­i­tor “con­crete progress” in the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the rec­om­men­da­tions made by the SADC Com­mis­sion of In­quiry into Le­sotho’s in­sta­bil­ity.

The Amer­i­cans in­tend to also keep tabs on the se­cu­rity sec­tor re­forms rec­om­mended by the Jus­tice Mpa­phi Phumaphi-led com­mis­sion.

Am­bas­sador Fro­man said the re­forms were meant to trans­form the Le­sotho De­fence Force (LDF) into a “pro­fes­sional and co­he­sive in­sti­tu­tion that is (a) fully sub­ject to civil­ian con­trol, (b) re­spects the rule of law, and (c) en­joys the con­fi­dence of all Ba­sotho”.

He said they would also mon­i­tor the treat­ment of sol­diers de­tained by the LDF on sus­pi­cion of mutiny and check whether in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions were able to ver­ify the con­di­tions of their de­ten­tion “in light of the SADC re­port find­ings of tor­ture and abuse”.

Am­bas­sador Fro­man con­cluded his mis­sive by say­ing: The United States and Le­sotho have an im­por­tant trade re­la­tion­ship, and AGOA serves as a use­ful tool to fur­ther strengthen the bond.

“To that end, I hope you will work with us to ad­dress the con­cerns cited above, in­clud­ing by en­gag­ing the US Em­bassy in Maseru on these is­sues. I look for­ward to our con­tin­ued en­gage­ment over the year ahead.”

Mr Setipa con­firmed re­ceiv­ing the cor­re­spon­dence to the Le­sotho Times this week, say­ing he was yet to study its im­pli­ca­tions since he was on a busi­ness trip to the United King­dom. The min­is­ter is part of a del­e­ga­tion of gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and busi­ness ex­ec­u­tives led by Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Mo­thetjoa Mets­ing in the Euro­pean coun­try to so­licit for in­vest­ment

into Le­sotho.

“We are yet to thor­oughly weigh its (the let­ter) im­pli­ca­tions, but once we re­turn to Maseru I in­tent to meet US Am­bas­sador to Le­sotho, Matthew Har­ring­ton, to dis­cuss the is­sues raised in the cor­re­spon­dence so the gov­ern­ment can re­spond ac­cord­ingly,” said Mr Setipa.

“We are in con­stant con­sul­ta­tions with Am­bas­sador Fro­man and the is­sues he men­tions are not new to me. We are cer­tainly not tak­ing them lightly and will con­tinue to work on ad­dress­ing them as a gov­ern­ment.”

He said the se­cu­rity sec­tor con­cerns raised by the US gov­ern­ment were be­ing ad­dressed by the gov­ern­ment.

“It is nor­mal for them to point out their con­cerns since we are in a re­la­tion­ship, and we ap­pre­ci­ate the ges­ture,” said the min­is­ter.

“We will dis­cuss the let­ter with Am­bas­sador Fro­man af­ter con­sult­ing with the US Em­bassy in Maseru so that we un­der­stand ex­actly what the let­ter is say­ing to us.”

Mr Setipa said the Amer­i­cans’ con­cerns had no bear­ing on the chal­lenges fac­ing the lo­cal textile in­dus­try which had re­sulted in mas­sive re­trench­ments by fac­to­ries due to dwin­dling or­ders from the eco­nomic pow­er­house.

“It should be noted that in the textile in­dus­try, busi­ness or­ders are placed months in ad­vance. There is ac­tu­ally noth­ing new on the is­sue of lack of or­ders that has sub­se­quently led to the tem­po­rary lay­ing off of work­ers since the in­dus­try is by na­ture sea­sonal,” he said.

“That is why the re­cruit­ment by the fac­to­ries fluc­tu­ates with the sea­sons. We have not yet reached a point where peo­ple can lose their jobs per­ma­nently since we are still el­i­gi­ble to ac­cess the US mar­ket.”

Mr Setipa said the gov­ern­ment would do all in its power to en­sure the jobs of textile work­ers were pre­served.

“We can­not take the jobs of 40 000 peo­ple who work in the textile in­dus­try lightly,” he said.

“We are, how­ever, aware that some peo­ple try to dis­tort the facts for their agen­das that are not in the best in­ter­ests of the coun­try.”

Con­tacted for com­ment, US Em­bassy Spokesper­son Julie Mckay con­firmed the re­newal of the fa­cil­ity for 2016.

How­ever, Ms Mckay would not be drawn to com­ment on the let­ter, say­ing: “It is our pol­icy not to com­ment on pri­vate com­mu­ni­ca­tions be­tween the United States gov­ern­ment and the gov­ern­ment of Le­sotho.”

“Dur­ing the el­i­gi­bil­ity re­view for 2016, how­ever, the US gov­ern­ment iden­ti­fied se­ri­ous con­cerns about the gov­ern­ment of Le­sotho’s ad­her­ence to cer­tain of the AGOA cri­te­ria, which we will con­tinue to mon­i­tor as part of the up­com­ing AGOA el­i­gi­bil­ity re­view process.

US Trade Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Am­bas­sador Michael Fro­man.

TRADE and In­dus­try Min­is­ter Joshua Setipa.

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