IT’S STILL WORTH FIGHTING FOR AGOA - TUCOSWA
MBABANE – It’s already been a month since the AGOA deadline passed but TUCOSWA believes it is still worth fighting for the country’s eligibility.
Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) Secretary General Vincent Ncongwane said so long as no pronouncements were made by the United States government that the kingdom has lost the African Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA) eligibilty, giving up was not an option.
The nation, however, is still in the dark about where Swaziland stands as far as its eligibility to AGOA is concerned.
AGOA, in essence, provides trade preferences for quota and duty-free entry for specific Swazi products into the United States market. The local textile industry has been a huge beneficiary of the Act since 14 years ago.
Although May 15 was the deadline for renewing eligibility, with an indication that failure to do so would lead the country to being cast out of the AGOA family, the US government has remained silent since then. A presidential endorsement must be obtained first.
No pronouncements on Swaziland/AGOA were made to date, and the textile industry has been finding it hard to deal with the suspense. Government is said to have not been able to meet the five benchmarks set by the US government. The benchmarks were related to the rights of workers.
Meanwhile, Ncongwane said it was worrying though that it seemed the Swazi government was now fighting the American government, instead of fighting to fulfil the benchmarks.
“Government doesn’t know when US President Barrack Obama will sign, but we are busy stalling. We, as a union, are not getting the real sense that something is being done by our government. There is still a lack of urgency,” Ncongwane said.
He added that it was alarming that while the Minister of Labour and Social Security, Winnie Magagula, has been away in Switzerland, Geneva for the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conference, nothing was happening back home towards retaining AGOA. “There are people who could have continued with work, but nothing; the progress is so slow. Parliament has been in recess for a long time now,” stated Ncongwane.
With that said, he still felt that giving up on AGOA was out of the question.
According to the US International Trade Commission (USITC) statistics, Swaziland is the fourth most exporting country to US markets through AGOA, among the benefitting African countries. Topping the charts is Lesotho followed by Kenya and Mauritius.
Other than the loss of jobs under this sector, the country stands to lose an average of about E600 million in income per year. Furthermore, the textile and apparel sector’s contribution is expected to decline as well. The country’s textile and apparel industry saw a slight recovery in 2013 of about 8.3 per cent in exports to the United States of America under AGOA.
The total value of exports amounted to E644 million in 2013. They showed an increase of about E54 million when compared to the E590 million exported in 2012.