TRALAC - Trade Law Centre

US warns on AGOA's human rights proviso

Thursday, 09 January 2003

Source: Business Day

US WASHINGTON The US has embarked on a major African foreign policy drive ahead of next week's meeting with African ministers in Mauritius, warning yesterday that some countries may lose trade privileges unless they improve their human rights records.

A senior US state department official said yesterday that Swaziland and Eritrea would soon receive letters from Secretary of State Colin Powell, warning them that they would be dropped from eligibility for benefits under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) unless they carry out reforms.

The move to closely link trade privileges to good governance comes ahead of next week's conference on Agoa, which opens up US markets to products from certain African countries.

About 300 delegates, including 40 cabinet ministers from 31 of the 38 African countries with Agoa eligibility, are expected to attend the conference. Among them are representatives from Eritrea and Swaziland. The warning to Swaziland follows the mass resignation recently of all six judges on Swaziland's appeals court amid allegations that the rule of law was not being respected. Other issues include King Mswati's purchase of a $45m executive jet at a time when 25% of his country's population is facing food shortages.

Eritrea was at risk of losing its Agoa privileges because of a massive crackdown on the opposition, the senior official said.

Tackling what it sees as problems in other African countries, the official said the Bush administration was leaning towards additional sanctions against Zimbabwe in response to alleged fraud in last year's presidential elections and continued human rights violations.

Any new sanctions would be financial in nature and a final decision could come this month, the official said, without providing any further details.

In Togo, officials and members of the country's parliament were asked by the US to explain the rationale behind a move that paved the way for President Gnassingbe Eyadema to seek another term in office.

Washington, which had been heartened by Eyadema's promises to step down in accordance with the constitution, was incredulous that parliament amended the document last month to allow him another term.

"This is exactly the kind of precedent we don't want to see," the official said. "We are asking key parliamentary leaders: why? And we are asking the president: Why are you going back on your word?"

In another development, the Bush administration ordered the release of up to $11m to aid refugees from conflicts in the Côte d'Ivoire, Liberia and Angola.

The order came in a memorandum from President George Bush's office to Powell, certifying that the aid was in the US national interest. Sapa-AFP