SWAZILAND FEELS THE PINCH
Tens of thousands of job losses in Swaziland are a taste of what it could be like for SA to lose Agoa. The government of Swaziland, with a population of just over 1m people, didn’t implement a number of US demands on workers’ rights and was excluded from Agoa last year. The textile industry, which was built largely on the back of the Agoa agreement, has been hardest hit.
This week, a subcontractor to a textile producer, who asked not to be named, said she had cut almost 10% of her workforce as US demand fell for Swazi textiles.
Jim Wang, an administrator at Tex Ray, a Taiwan-based textile and garment factory operating in Swaziland, said earlier this year that his company had retrenched 1 500 people from factories that were operating solely to supply the US market. He said some of these workers had been lucky enough to find jobs elsewhere, but others had returned to “do agriculture at home”, in other words subsistence farming. He said the company was currently trying to increase its sales into the much smaller South African market − also a duty-free zone − but “at the moment we can’t increase enough to recover”.
Billionaire Natie Kirsh has been lobbying hard to get the US to reinstate Agoa in Swaziland. Kirsh, 82, whose fortune far exceeds that of the controversial King Mswati III, kicked off his astounding career in property and retail in Swaziland. He has a deep attachment to the country and a great deal of influence around the world. However despite his efforts, the US has thus far stood firm.