SD OPTIMISTIC ON AGOA READMISSION
Three years ago, Swaziland was declared ineligible for benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) which resulted in dire consequences such as job losses in the textile industry; it is now a matter of three months before the country’s fate is known.
Based upon a recommendation by the United States Interagency Trade Policy Staff Committee, US President Donald Trump is expected to make his determination on AGOA eligibility before the end of year 2017. According to the US Embassy, the president is required to notify Congress 60 days prior to the effective date of such a change and the effective date will be January 1 for the 2018 AGOA Eligibility Review.
“The 2018 AGOA Eligibility Review was initiated on July 12, 2017. The interagency trade Policy Staff Committee will make a recommendation to the US trade representative on each country’s AGOA eligibility status in the fall,” says US embassy Public Affairs Officer Joia Starks.
The country was kicked out by the Obama administration citing that the Kingdom had repeatedly failed to demonstrate measurable progress toward the guarantee and protection of internationally recognised worker rights.
These included among others the right to freely speak, associate, and assemble without police or government interference. In a press statement, the US government lamented the country’s failure to take the required steps to promote and protect worker rights which would have allowed Swaziland to remain part of the AGOA family.
“The Swazi government made a sovereign decision not to make the reforms necessary to retain AGOA eligibility, despite clear communications from the US Government as far back as 2010 concerning what actions needed to be taken,” read part of the statement published in 2014.
Two weeks ago, unions c omprising of Indus tr iALL , Amal g a ma t e d Trade Union of Swaz i land ( ATUSWA), and the Trade U n i o n Congress of Sw a z i l and ( T U C O S WA ) met and agreed to support Swaziland’s readmission to AGOA.
The unions said Swaziland had made significant progress towards protecting workers rights therefore they were calling for the reinstatement of the country on AGOA. The unions claim that over 17 000 jobs were affected when AGOA benefits, which included dutyfree exports to the US, were withdrawn. The ministry of labour and social security on the other hand said from its side, it had adhered to the benchmarks that were set for the country to be eligible for the US preferential trade agreement and now awaits the review outcome.
The ministry cited that it has made amendments to the the Industrial Relations Act, the Suppression of Terrorism Act, and the Public Order Act. These Acts were said to have had sections which restricted freedoms of assembly, expression and association.
Each year in December, all eligible sub- Saharan African countries are reviewed to determine if they have established, or are making substantial progress toward establishing, the required conditions for participation in AGOA. Swaziland will be part of that review process. AGOA is a US preferential trade program established in May 2000 that provides duty free access to the $3 trillion US market for thousands of products from eligible sub-Saharan African countries. The purpose of the l aw is to support subSaharan African economic development through trade and investment. The programme offers tangible incentives to sub-Saharan African countries for undertaking often difficult political and economic reforms that promote long-term growth and development. Swaziland began benefitting from the program in 2001 when the Swazi government voluntarily accepted the AGOA eligibility criteria, which include respect for the rule of law, poverty reduction, combatting corruption, respect for worker rights and human rights, child labour protections, and market openness.