After one false start it is now official: Swaziland has lost its preferential trading status with the United States.
US President Barack Obama announced on Thursday (26 June 2014) that the kingdom would lose its benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).
He said this was because Swaziland was not ‘making continual progress’ in enacting civil, political and workers’ rights.
Swaziland is not a democracy and is ruled by King Mswati III, who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
In a statement, a White House spokesperson said, ‘The decision to withdraw Swaziland’s AGOA eligibility comes after years of engaging with the Government of the Kingdom of Swaziland on concerns about its implementation of the AGOA eligibility criteria related to worker rights.’
The statement said after an ‘extensive review’ the US, ‘concluded that Swaziland had not demonstrated progress on the protection of internationally recognized worker rights. In particular, Swaziland has failed to make continual progress in protecting freedom of association and the right to organize. Of particular concern is Swaziland’s use of security forces and arbitrary arrests to stifle peaceful demonstrations, and the lack of legal recognition for labor and employer federations.
US Trade Representative Michael Froman, said, ‘The withdrawal of AGOA benefits is not a decision that is taken lightly.
‘We have made our concerns very clear to Swaziland over the last several years and we engaged extensively on concrete steps that Swaziland could take to address the concerns. We hope to continue our engagement with the Government of the Kingdom of Swaziland on steps it can take so that worker and civil society groups can freely associate and assemble and AGOA eligibility can be restored.’
AGOA is a US preferential trade programme that provides duty-free access to the $3 trillion US market for thousands of products from eligible sub-Saharan African countries.
Media in Swaziland have predicted that as many as 20,000 jobs in the kingdom’s textile industry could be lost as a result of the withdrawal of AGOA benefits that comes into force on 1 January 2015. The textile industry in Swaziland is dominated by Taiwanese companies which were drawn to the kingdom by the availability of cheap labour and the AGOA agreement.
In May 2014 Media reported that Swaziland had lost its AGOA status, quoting US Ambassador to Swaziland, Malika James as a source. She later denied making a statement.
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