US axes Swazi trade deal over rights abuses

July 14, 2014

Swaziland’s continuing workers’ rights abuses saw the country stripped of a special trade agreement with the USA last week.

President Obama withdrew the country’s eligibility for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) last Thursday. Michael Froman, the US trade representative, explained that the decision was taken in light of Swaziland’s continuing labour rights abuses. AGOA status enables countries in sub-Saharan Africa to get duty-free access to the US market on thousands of products, making it cheaper to enter the USD 3 trillion import market.

The ITF has long campaigned for improved workers’ rights in Swaziland, most recently campaigning for the release of imprisoned union lawyer Basil Thwala. During a March 2014 visit to the country, ITF assistant general secretary Stuart Howard led a high-level mission to the country, which met with government representatives and US embassy officials. Howard said: “In March, we personally warned the government that its denial of union rights was likely to lead to its losing AGOA. They refused to listen. Now they’re paying the consequences.”

While Thwala was released just days before the US Department of Trade was scheduled to review the AGOA agreement, unions including the ITF-affiliated Swaziland Transport & Allied Workers’ Union (STAWU) continue to face government harassment.

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