SD OP­TI­MISTIC ON AGOA READ­MIS­SION

Sunday Observer - - NEWS - BY ZWELETHU DLAMINI

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.

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