TRALAC - Trade Law Centre

Swaziland: It (would be) difficult to get back AGOA - USA

Friday, 11 April 2014 Published: | Welcome Dlamini

Source: Swazi Observer

Should Swaziland lose its African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) eligibility status, it would be difficult to be re-admitted into the programme.

This has been emphasised by a delegation from the United States of America which arrived in the country on Monday to assess progress made by the government in implementing five benchmarks related to eligibility to continue participating in AGOA.

AGOA is a US preferential trade programme that provides duty-free access to the US market for products from eligible sub-Saharan African countries.

Leader of the delegation, Constance Hamilton, who is Deputy Assistant US Trade Representative for Africa, told a media briefing yesterday that the stakes would be raised higher if Swaziland were to seek re-admission if the eligibility status is eventually cancelled, come the deadline of May 15, 2014.

“This is one of the things that we wanted to impress on (Swaziland) government; that the bar gets raised a little bit when you are coming back in because then we would not be looking only at worker rights issues but we would look at all the issues that go with the AGOA eligibility criteria. So, there might be other things that come up in that review that may be problematic for Swaziland.”

Continuing, Hamilton said: “So, we hope that they (Swaziland) won’t go out but if they do go out they can always get back in as we review countries every year. We would look at the criteria, look at the progress they are making, look at human rights issues, look at the worker rights issues, look at the development of the market-based economy issues. There are lots of AGOA eligibility criteria that we would examine.”

She said the longevity of the period it would take to re-admit Swaziland would depend on the Swaziland government.

“As I said, it is up to the government to decide whether they want to be part of the AGOA family. We can look at the issue (of re-admission) anytime. The embassy will continue to inform us of progress on all the criteria and if they (embassy) say it looks like it is a good opportunity to review Swaziland before the year is up, we might do that.”

Hopeful

Hamilton said the US has always been hopeful that Swaziland will meet the eligibility criteria but there were concerns that it had taken far too long for it to happen.

“It is all about political will,” she said.

Yesterday, the US delegation, which also consisted of Dr. Anne Zollner who is Division Chief in the office of Trade Policy and Negotiations –Department of Labour and Nicolle Johnson who is the International Economist, Bureau of African Affairs, Department of State, met with Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini.

“We had very positive talks,” Hamilton said of the PM’s meeting, and stated that they got to learn what government’s progress is in working to meet the May 15 deadline.”

To continue to benefit under AGOA, Swaziland, by May 15, should have met the following five benchmarks:

1. Full passage of the amendment to the Industrial Relations Act allowing for the registration of trade union and employer federations.

2. Full passage of the amendment to the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

3. Full passage of the amendment to the Public Order Act allowing for the full recognition of the freedom of assembly, speech and organisation.

4. Full passage of the amendments to Sections 40 and 97 of the Industrial Relations Act.

5. Dissemination and implementation of the Code of Good Practice on Protest and Industrial Action.

 

Questioned on the ongoing case of journalist Bheki Makhubu and lawyer Thulani Maseko, Hamilton said such could haunt Swaziland if it were to continue.

“At some point, that is certainly going to be a factor if nothing changes, if it gets worse. 

“We continue to look at countries every year; we look at the criteria and what countries are doing to meet the criteria. If we look at the human rights issues in December and this case is going in the way it is going, it could be an issue. But we cannot predict at this moment what will happen,” she added.

 

'...we are not trying to control Swaziland' - US

The United States of America says it is not trying to control Swaziland through the AGOA programme.

Instead, all the US wants is for Swaziland to meet its obligations attached to the programme.

“We have too much on our plate to try and control anybody. So, I do not know where that comes from. I have heard before that this (AGOA) infringes on sovereignty, but that fact of the matter is that AGOA is there to promote trade and investment; we want investors to come to Swaziland, these (AGOA benchmarks) are just best business practices. Swaziland is not being asked to do anything that the other 40 countries under AGOA have not already done,” said Constance Hamilton, the Deputy Assistant US Trade Representative for Africa.

Hamilton said workers’ rights were important to investors in as much as it was to the U.S. Congress.

“But countries who do not want to meet the criteria do not have to do it. It is completely up to the government of Swaziland, if they do not want to do it then that is their decision.”

She said if Swaziland did not want to be part of AGOA, nothing would change in the two countries’ relationship as “we will remain good friends and continue our bilateral relationship.”

 

'We’re doing something' – Govt

With the AGOA deadline getting nearer, government has assured the United States of America that there were amends to meet the five set conditions.

So far, government has sent a Bill to parliament that seeks to amend the Industrial Relations Act so as to provide for the registration of trade unions and employer federations.

The US’s Constance Hamilton said this is what they were told during their meeting with Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini on Wednesday.

“We were told that the Industrial Relations Bill is now in parliament. As for the other conditions, they said they are working on them, that is what they said to us and there is nothing more I can say to you,” she said.

Hamilton mentioned that it was now more than 10 years since they first told Swaziland to address the issues that are now threatening the AGOA eligibility status.

 

Concerns

“They (Swaziland government) have been saying they are working on it, that they understand our concerns and that they will address them. But we have not seen concrete progress. All we are saying is that these things have to be completed; they have to be implemented. It is not just sending things to parliament and then you are done, they have to be passed.” She said she did not know whether government was stalling the process or not but what was apparent was that “It is a difficult thing to do here”.

“But the AGOA programme rewards countries for doing difficult things that is why it is a one-way programme. We are not asking for reciprocity to get you into the markets but if you want access to US markets through this programme, which is greater than the Free Trade Area agreement which we have, you have to meet the conditions attached to it,” Hamilton said.

 

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