Africa: President Obama removes Swaziland, Reinstates Madagascar for AGOA benefits
President Obama reinstated Madagascar's eligibility for African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) benefits, effective immediately, and withdrew Swaziland's AGOA eligibility, effective January 1, 2015.
Madagascar was removed from AGOA on January 1, 2010 following a 2009 coup d'état.
Successful elections in late 2013 led to the formation of Madagascar's first democratic government since the 2009 coup. The United States has taken steps to normalize relations with Madagascar, lifted all coup-related restrictions on direct assistance to the Malagasy government, and invited President Rajaonarimampianina to attend the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington in August.
The decision to reinstate Madagascar's AGOA eligibility recognizes the nation's return to democratic rule, as well as President Rajaonarimampianina's commitment to promote transparency, combat corruption, and begin rebuilding Madagascar's economy. Ambassador Froman said, "We are pleased that Madagascar has returned to the family of AGOA nations. We are hopeful that Madagascar will take advantage of AGOA's potential to create employment, expand bilateral trade, and contribute to the economic well-being, security, and health of its people."
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. 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. 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 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 $3 trillion U.S. market for thousands of products from eligible sub-Saharan African countries. One goal of 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 program in 2001 when the Swazi government voluntarily accepted the AGOA eligibility criteria, which includes respect for the rule of law, poverty reduction, combatting corruption, respect for worker rights and human rights, child labor protections, and market openness.