US speaks on AGOA

Lesotho Times - - Front Page - Staff Writer

THE United States (US) gov­ern­ment says a de­ter­mi­na­tion on Le­sotho’s el­i­gi­bil­ity for free trade ben­e­fits un­der the African Growth and Op­por­tu­nity Act ( AGOA) will be made on 1 Jan­uary 2017.

The Amer­i­cans have also dis­pelled claims by some politi­cians that US Am­bas­sador to Le­sotho Matthew Har­ring­ton would leave the coun­try due to the in­can­ing administration in Wash­ing­ton, say­ing the en­voy “serves at the plea­sure of the pres­i­dent”.

US Em­bassy Pub­lic Af­fairs Of­fi­cer Julie Mckay yes­ter­day told the Le­sotho Times di­a­logue was continuing with Maseru on the gov­er­nance and rule of law con­cerns they had ex­pressed.

The Amer­i­cans have been stead­fast that Le­sotho would only con­tinue to ben­e­fit from the AGOA fa­cil­ity af­ter tak­ing “con­crete ac­tions” that ad­dress con­cerns about “im­punity and the rule of law” as well as im­ple­men­ta­tion of South­ern African De­vel­op­ment Com­mu­nity ( SADC) Com­mis­sion of In­quiry rec­om­men­da­tions.

AGOA gives duty-free and quota-free ac­cess to the US mar­ket to el­i­gi­ble Sub-sa­ha­ran African coun­tries in­clud­ing Le­sotho. The leg­is­la­tion, which was ap­proved by the US Con­gress in May 2000 is meant to in­cen­tivise African coun­tries to open their economies and build free mar­kets.

It was re­newed for an­other 10 years in June 2015 as the AGOA Ex­ten­sion & En­hance­ment Act and amended to al­low the US to with­draw, sus­pend or limit ben­e­fits if des­ig­nated AGOA coun­tries do not com­ply with its el­i­gi­bil­ity cri­te­ria.

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.

Ear­lier this month, US As­sis­tant Sec­re­tary of State for African Af­fairs Linda Thomas-green­field told this pa­per the “writ­ing was on the wall” for Le­sotho’s el­i­gi­bil­ity for AGOA and a se­cond com­pact grant un­der the Mil­len­nium Chal­lenge Cor­po­ra­tion due to gov­ern­ment’s fail­ure to ad­dress is­sues of “im­punity and the rule of law”.

Am­bas­sador Thomas-green­field said the gov­ern­ment risked jeop­ar­dis­ing the jobs of 40 000 Ba­sotho work­ing in the tex­tile sec­tor by fail­ing to fully im­ple­ment the rec­om­mended re­forms by the SADC Com­mis­sion of In­quiry into Le­sotho’s in­sta­bil­ity.

The 10-mem­ber com­mis­sion, led by Botswana’s Jus­tice Mpa­phi Phumaphi, car­ried out its in­ves­ti­ga­tions be­tween 31 Au­gust and 23 Oc­to­ber 2015 and rec­om­mended Le­sotho De­fence Force (LDF) com­man­der Lieu­tenant-gen­eral Tlali Kamoli’s dis­missal and the sus­pen­sion of LDF of­fi­cers im­pli­cated in cases of mur­der, at­tempted mur­der and trea­son while in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the al­le­ga­tions pro­ceeded in line with in­ter­na­tional best prac­tice.

The in­quiry also rec­om­mended an amnesty for the 23 sol­diers fac­ing mutiny charges be­fore the Court Mar­tial. The sol­diers were ar­rested be­tween May and June 2015 for al­legedly plot­ting to vi­o­lently re­move the LDF com­mand. Eight of the sol­diers have since been re­leased from Maseru Max­i­mum Se­cu­rity Prison and placed un­der open ar­rest, which is a form of bail in the mil­i­tary. The other 15 re­main in de­ten­tion.

Lt-gen Kamoli has since been re­tired, with his ten­ure at the helm of the LDF set to end on 1 De­cem­ber 2016. The gov­ern­ment has also un­der­taken to im­ple­ment con­sti­tu­tional and se­cu­rity sec­tor re­forms, although there has not been a dis­cernible move­ment on the other afore­men­tioned rec­om­men­da­tions.

Ms Mckay said they were en­gag­ing the gov­ern­ment to ad­dress their gov­er­nance con­cerns with LtGen Kamoli’s re­tire­ment “a pos­i­tive step”.

“The United States, through the US Em­bassy in Maseru, con­tin­ues to di­a­logue with the gov­ern­ment of Le­sotho about gov­er­nance and rule of law con­cerns and en­cour­age the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the SADC Com­mis­sion of In­quiry rec­om­men­da­tions,” she said.

“As we have said be­fore, we wel­come the an­nounce­ment of Lt-gen Tlali Kamoli’s planned De­cem­ber 1 re­tire­ment and see this as a pos­i­tive step.”

Ms Mckay in­di­cated the AGOA el­i­gi­bil­ity re­view was on­go­ing and would con­tinue even if Le­sotho’s el­i­gi­bil­ity is con­firmed due to a new pro­vi­sion in the AGOA Ex­ten­sion and En­hance­ment Act al­low­ing for out-of-cy­cle re­views. The re­views can be ini­ti­ated at any time to de­ter­mine whether a ben­e­fi­ciary sub-sa­ha­ran African coun­try still meets the el­i­gi­bil­ity cri­te­ria.

“The cur­rent an­nual AGOA el­i­gi­bil­ity re­view is on­go­ing. The pres­i­dent makes an­nual el­i­gi­bil­ity de­ter­mi­na­tions ef­fec­tive Jan­uary 1st of each year. The new AGOA leg­is­la­tion pro­vides the administration greater flex­i­bil­ity in re­view­ing coun­tries on an on­go­ing ba­sis, in­clud­ing by ini­ti­at­ing ‘out of cy­cle’ re­views if nec­es­sary,” she said.

On the ques­tion of whether AGOA was un­der any threat given that US Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump has promised to quit the Trans-pa­cific Part­ner­ship among other trade deals, Ms Mckay said: “As we pre­pare for the tran­si­tion in ad­min­is­tra­tions, it’s im­por­tant to rec­og­nize that the ma­jor chal­lenges Africa faces are clear, and likely to be sim­i­lar for the next administration.

“Many of our core pro­grams in Africa, such as PEP­FAR (Pres­i­dent’s Emer­gency Plan for AIDS Re­lief) and AGOA, en­joy strong bi­par­ti­san sup­port and rep­re­sent a stead­fast com­mit­ment to im­prov­ing lives and ex­pand­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for peo­ple across the con­ti­nent.”

She also dis­pelled claims Mr Har­ring­ton had been re­called to Wash­ing­ton, say­ing he served at the plea­sure of the US pres­i­dent. This was af­ter out­spo­ken Le­sotho Peo­ple’s Con­gress of­fi­cial Bokang Ra­matšella claimed that since the Demo­cratic-led US gov­ern­ment had “fallen” with the elec­tion of Mr Trump who is a Repub­li­can, the same was true for the en­voy.

Ms Mckay stressed that while the in­com­ing pres­i­dent makes his own ap­point­ments, there was con­ti­nu­ity be­tween ad­min­is­tra­tions to en­sure the US gov­ern­ment con­tin­ues to func­tion with­out in­ter­rup­tion no mat­ter who is in the White House.

“Am­bas­sador Matthew Har­ring­ton has not left Le­sotho. He is a ca­reer diplo­mat who ar­rived in Maseru in Oc­to­ber 2014. As with all US am­bas­sadors, he serves at the plea­sure of the pres­i­dent,” she said.

US Em­bassy Pub­lic Af­fairs Of­fi­cer Julie Mckay.

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