Washington — President Obama reinstated Madagascar's eligibility for African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) benefits June 26 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, according to a June 26 news release from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) that explained Obama's actions.
Successful elections in late 2013 led to the formation of Madagascar's first democratic government since the 2009 coup. The United States took steps to normalize relations with Madagascar, lifted all coup-related restrictions on direct assistance to the Malagasy government, and invited President Hery Rajaonarimampianina to attend the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington in August, USTR said.
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.
"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," said U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman.
The decision to withdraw Swaziland's AGOA eligibility came after years of engaging with the country's government on concerns about its implementation of the AGOA eligibility criteria related to worker rights, USTR said. After an extensive review that included a USTR-led interagency trip in April, the United States concluded that Swaziland had not demonstrated progress on protecting internationally recognized worker rights.
In particular, Swaziland failed to make continual progress in protecting freedom of association and the right to organize. Of particular concern, USTR said, is Swaziland's use of security forces and arbitrary arrests to stifle peaceful demonstrations, as well as the lack of legal recognition for labor and employer federations.
"The withdrawal of AGOA benefits is not a decision that is taken lightly," Froman said. "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 SUPPORTS AFRICAN DEVELOPMENT
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 of its goals is to support sub-Saharan African economic development through trade and investment. The program offers incentives to sub-Saharan African countries for undertaking difficult political and economic reforms that promote long-term growth and development.
Swaziland began benefiting from the program in 2001, when the Swazi government voluntarily accepted the AGOA eligibility criteria, which include respect for the rule of law, poverty reduction, combating corruption, respect for worker rights and human rights, child labor protections and market openness.