20 May 2014

Swaziland: Confusion Over Kingdom's AGOA Status

Photo: Clean Clothes Campaign
Swazi textile factory making sweaters and jeans for the African market.

There is confusion surrounding the United States' announcement on the future of Swaziland's status under the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA).

On Friday (16 May 2014) the AFP news agency reported Makila James, the US Ambassador to Swaziland, saying the kingdom had lost its status because it failed to meet five conditions relating to workers' and human rights.

Swaziland had been given until 15 May 2014 to comply or risk losing AGOA status, which allows Swazi goods to be sold in the United States under preferential terms.

But, the following day media in Swaziland reported that James denied talking to the AFP.

The Observer on Saturday, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, reported Ruth Newman the Swaziland US Embassy spokesperson, saying, 'I have checked with her [the Ambassador] and she is surprised where AFP got the report, because they never called her in the first place. The quote attributed to her, were not hers.'

Newman was also reported saying, 'There is no decision yet.'

The Swazi News, an independent newspaper, reported Newman saying a statement on Swaziland's AGOA status would be made, 'when they are ready'.

A press conference due to be held by the US Embassy on Monday (19 May 2014) to make the announcement was called off at the last minute. No reason for the cancellation or alternative date for the announcement was given.

The United States had given Swaziland, which is ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, an ultimatum to implement the full passage of amendments to the Industrial Relations Act; full passage of amendments to the Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA); full passage of amendments to the Public Order Act; full passage of amendments to sections 40 and 97 of the Industrial Relations Act relating to civil and criminal liability to union leaders during protest actions; and establishing a code of conduct for the police during public protests.

It appears the Swaziland Government has failed to meet the requirements and it is widely anticipated that when the announcement is made it will say Swaziland will lose its AGOA benefits from the start of 2015.

An editorial in the Swazi Observer, another newspaper in effect owned by the King, on Monday (19 May 2014) said, 'it was just a matter of time', before AGOA benefits would be lost.

It added, 'We are also aware that the AGOA axe has been hovering above our heads for some time.'

An editorial in the Times Sunday, an independent newspaper, gave two reasons why the Swazi Government was to blame for the loss of AGOA.

It said, 'One; for the first time in the history of Cabinet, we had ministers in office who were highly incompetent to a point of costing thousands of people their jobs. Two; there never was any intention to meet the demands in the first place, because retaining the status quo supersedes the livelihood of thousands of citizens or even the Constitution.'

In Swaziland the Government is not elected, it is hand-picked by King Mswati.

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