AGOA EL­I­GI­BIL­ITY

Observer on Saturday - - Analysis & Opinion -

On Sun­day (De­cem­ber 17, 2017) we woke up to the good news that the Pres­i­dent of the United States of Amer­ica Don­ald Trump had re-ad­mit­ted Swazi­land into the list of coun­tries that are el­i­gi­ble to trade ben­e­fits un­der the Africa Growth Op­por­tu­nity Act (AGOA).

We had lost our el­i­gi­bil­ity in 2015 when then US Pres­i­dent Bar­rack Obama signed us out of AGOA el­i­gi­bil­ity, be­cause we were found to have not done enough in re­spect of cer­tain laws, especially free­dom of peace­ful as­sem­ble and free­dom of ex­pres­sion as es­poused in our Sup­pres­sion of Ter­ror­ism Act of 2008.

Other crit­i­cal is­sues that we needed to deal with were as fol­lows; full pas­sage of amend­ments to the In­dus­trial Re­la­tions Act (that dealt with the reg­is­tra­tion of fed­er­a­tions); full pas­sage of amend­ments to the STA; full pas­sage of amend­ments to the Pub­lic Or­der Act; full pas­sage of amend­ments to Sec­tion 40 and 97 of the IRA re­lat­ing to civil; and crim­i­nal li­a­bil­ity to union lead­ers dur­ing protest ac­tion; es­tab­lish­ing a code of con­duct for the po­lice dur­ing pub­lic protests.

As a coun­try that as­pires to be amongst the First World economies by 2022 we need ac­cess to all the world mar­kets.

The past 24 months have been hec­tic for our econ­omy and we lost a size­able chunk in terms of for­eign cur­rency, jobs were lost and thou­sands of peo­ple whose busi­nesses re­lied on the tex­tile and other prod­ucts el­i­gi­ble un­der AGOA suf­fered.

It has been a painful ex­pe­ri­ence and we thank God that de­spite the chal­lenges the coun­try con­tin­ued to hold to­gether. It is in this vein that we have to ap­plaud the lead­er­ship of His Majesty King Mswati III who used ev­ery­thing within his sphere of in­flu­ence that the coun­try re­gains the AGOA mar­ket.

He en­sured that all means avail­able were ex­plored to en­sure that we com­ply with the AGOA bench­marks. His of­fice, work­ing to­gether with the At­tor­ney Gen­eral and Cabi­net pushed through the nec­es­sary amend­ments; hence to­day we can re­joice that we have got the US mar­ket back.

We need to thank com­pa­nies like Tex Ray, Ray Li in par­tic­u­lar for be­ing a faith­ful in­vestor, de­spite the chal­lenges of los­ing the AGOA mar­ket re­mained to be a true friend and never left us.

He re­mained hope­ful that if Swazi­land works on the bench­marks, he was still com­mit­ted to con­tin­u­ing his op­er­a­tions in the coun­try.

We will need to thank the other tex­tile com­pa­nies as well, who have re­mained in the coun­try and ex­plored other mar­kets.

As a coun­try we have learnt bit­terly that the agree­ments we sign do get to hurt us if we de­vi­ate from their core ob­jec­tives.

Gov­ern­ment has learnt, I hope, whilst there will al­ways be those el­e­ments call­ing for regime change; we need to al­ways act in the man­ner that is not go­ing to hurt our de­vel­op­ment ob­jec­tives.

With the amend­ments we have seen im­proved work­ing re­la­tions be­tween unions and gov­ern­ment; protest marches have been peace­ful and clearly the lessons we have learned have not gone to waste.

De­vel­op­ment

The other crit­i­cal de­vel­op­ment that we need to recog­nie and ap­pre­ci­ate is that de­spite the coun­try’s los­ing AGOA mar­ket, the two coun­tries con­tin­ued to main­tain cor­dial re­la­tion­ships.

We may have been hurt by the US Gov­ern­ment’s po­si­tion to with­draw AGOA el­i­gi­bil­ity but in other ar­eas like health, through PEPFAR and other pro­grammes we have main­tained good re­la­tion­ships.

In the health sec­tor for in­stance, through the sup­port of the US gov­ern­ment we have made sig­nif­i­cant strides in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

The other el­e­ment that we need to ap­pre­ci­ate is that whilst the US has been stead­fast in the full com­pli­ance with the bench­marks such a po­si­tion was based on the full en­joy­ment of demo­cratic val­ues and never been about regime change.

En­gage­ment

We have seen signs or ten­den­cies with some when at our point of need wanted to push a cer­tain agenda which was not in con­cert with the as­pi­ra­tions of the en­tire pop­u­lace.

Change of what­ever form is best achieved when the so­ci­ety grows into it and not one that is shoved down some peo­ple’s throats.

The two years of in­ten­sive en­gage­ment with the Leg­is­la­ture, the Ex­ec­u­tive and im­proved at­ti­tude of the Ju­di­ciary dis­played a char­ac­ter of a Na­tion that was will­ing to change.

We hope go­ing for­ward we will be more open about the ar­eas where we don’t agree with our part­ners and work to­gether am­i­ca­ble to ar­rive at a so­lu­tion that works for both of us.

Lastly, still on AGOA we need to fully ex­plore the ben­e­fits of this op­por­tu­nity and en­sure that Swazis also take keen in­ter­ests.

In fact, AGOA is more about em­pow­er­ing our cit­i­zens and we hope we will im­prove some as­pects of it by en­sur­ing that Swazis don’t only be­come ef­fi­cient in prov­i­dent man­ual work but also are in­volved in the tech­ni­cal side of things. To­day we have Swazis who can speak flu­ent Man­darin and that means it will be not dif­fi­cult to get them into se­nior crit­i­cal po­si­tions within this field. We need to have a time­line in place of when we ex­pect a cer­tain num­ber of Swazis run­ning this sec­tor.

Also at the cen­tre of this sec­tor is agri­cul­ture, so we need to do a lot to en­sure that the yarn and cot­ton used in most of the tex­tile fac­to­ries is sourced within the coun­try. Let the re-ad­mis­sion of Swazi­land un­der AGOA be the stim­u­lus needed to re­alise an eco­nomic up-turn.

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