Swaziland, located in southern part of Africa, has been excluded from the list of countries eligible to get benefit under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) of the US Government, with effect from January 1, 2015, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has announced through a press release.
The decision to withdraw Swaziland’s AGOA eligibility has come 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.
“After an extensive review, including through a USTR-led interagency trip in April, the United States Government concluded that Swaziland had not demonstrated progress on the protection of internationally recognized worker rights,” the press release said.
“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,” the statement adds.
“The withdrawal of AGOA benefits is not a decision that is taken lightly,” said U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman. “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 U.S. preferential trade program established in May 2000 that provides duty-free access to the US$3 trillion American market for thousands of products from eligible sub-Saharan African countries.
One of the objectives of the AGOA is to support sub-Saharan African economic development through trade and investment. The program offers tangible incentives to sub-Saharan African countries for undertaking difficult political and economic reforms that promote long-term growth and development.
Swaziland began benefitting from the AGOA in 2001 when the Swazi Government voluntarily accepted the AGOA eligibility criteria, which includes respect for the rule of law, poverty reduction, combating corruption, respect for worker rights and human rights, child labor protections, and market openness.
Swaziland is Africa’s last absolute monarchy and is being ruled by King Mswati III. The garment and textile industry in the country employs about 17,300 people, several of whom may now become unemployed as the garments made by them cannot beexported duty free to the US, with the withdrawal of AGOA benefit to the country.