EPA not AGOA’s replacement: Doyle

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European Union Ambassador Michael Doyle

Staff Writer

EUROPEAN Union (EU) Ambassador to Lesotho, Dr Michael Doyle, says the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the 28-nation bloc and Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries including Lesotho was not meant to replace the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) but to complement it.

Addressing a media briefing in Maseru this week, Dr Doyle also said Lesotho needed to formulate an implementation plan to fully benefit from the SADC EPA – which is meant to strengthen and enhance trade between the regional blocs.

Lesotho faces losing AGOA eligibility for 2017 for failing to meet rule of law and governance benchmarks to benefit from the free trade facility. AGOA gives duty-free and quota-free access to the United States market to eligible Sub-Saharan African countries including Lesotho. Among the main eligibility criteria for the facility are a market-based economy, rule of law, systems to combat corruption, and not engaging in gross violations of internationally-recognised human rights.

In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili last week, the Americans said Lesotho had failed to implement Southern African Development Community (SADC) Commission of Inquiry recommendations such as investigating the killing of former army commander Maaparankoe Mahao and releasing detained soldiers facing mutiny charges.

During her visit to Lesotho last month, US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield told this paper the “writing was on the wall” for Lesotho’s eligibility for AGOA due to the government’s failure to address issues of “impunity and the rule of law”.

Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield said the government risked jeopardising the jobs of 40 000 Basotho working in the textile sector by failing to fully implement the recommended reforms.

A determination on Lesotho’s AGOA eligibility will be made before the end of the year and become effective on 1 January 2017.

The EPA was inked on 10 June 2016 in Botswana with the SADC EPA group comprising Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland.

The EPA guarantees the countries duty-free, quota-free access to the European market under conditions similar to AGOA among other provisions. The SADC EPA states don’t have to respond with the same level of market openness. Instead, they can keep tariffs on products sensitive to international competition.

Dr Doyle said the EPA should not be seen as a replacement for AGOA but complementary since they catered for different markets. The local food canning and diamond industries are among the sectors that stand to benefit from the EPA, while AGOA was primarily catering for the textile sector.

“The EPA should not be deemed a replacement to AGOA because they can complement each other. In any case, Lesotho needs to exploit all the trade facilities it can get given the very high unemployment and poverty in the country,” he said.

The envoy also stressed the importance of turning the SADC EPA’s opportunities into realities.

“Without an attractive business environment, Lesotho will not be able to take up the opportunities the agreement provides. Lesotho needs to create an attractive business environment in order to accrue the benefits of the agreement,” Dr Doyle added.

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