Setipa upbeat on AGOA eligibility

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Billy Ntaote

TRADE and Industry Minister Joshua Setipa has expressed optimism Lesotho will remain an Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) beneficiary ahead of an eligibility determination this month.

Mr Setipa this week told the Lesotho Times that during his recent working visit to the United States, he met various high ranking officials involved in determining Lesotho’s eligibility for AGOA and Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) compacts.

The minister said the officials were “happy with the country’s progress” in implementing governance reforms.

AGOA provides for duty-free entry of goods into the US from designated sub-Saharan African countries, including Lesotho, and applies to both textile and non-textile goods. Lesotho’s textile and garment industry, which is anchored on AGOA, employs more than 40 000 people, in addition to other downstream sectors.

The MCC is a bilateral American foreign aid agency established by the United States Congress in 2004, with countries expected to meet certain conditions such as good governance and respect for the rule of law to qualify.

In 2008, Lesotho was granted a five-year compact valued at US$362.5 million (over M3 billion) towards expanding water supply for household and industrial use, strengthening the country’s health care system and removing barriers to foreign and local private sector investment.

Lesotho was expecting its second compact last year, but the Board decided not to vote on the issue because of governance concerns.

Last December, the US government granted Lesotho AGOA eligibility in 2017 to give the Mountain Kingdom more time to meet the benchmarks which include implementing the rest of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Commission of Inquiry’s recommendations.

The benchmarks also include implementation of security sector reforms and facilitating an amnesty for Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) members facing mutiny charges.

Mr Setipa said he made a strong case for Lesotho to be granted AGOA eligibility during the visit, and expected a positive outcome. He said some of the officials he previously held negotiations with last year, such as then US Trade Representative Ambassador Michael Froman had since stepped down to make way for an official from President Donald Trump’s administration.

“I met the only senior officials left right now in the US government responsible for eligibility issues,” the minister said.

“I met US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield and an official at the United States Trade Representative (USTR) for Africa.”

Mr Setipa also revealed that he met MCC officials and made the case for Lesotho to get a second compact grant.

“We agreed that on the substantive issues. They were satisfied on the issues they had raised in December since they are being addressed. “The detainees are being released. They are watching what will be the outcome of the Amnesty Bill 2016 that is going through parliament.”

The Americans had expressed concern on the broadness of the Amnesty Bill of 2016, which is meant to grant members of the security sector a blanket amnesty for offences committed between January 2007 and December 2015.

Mr Setipa said he also met key members of both the US Congress and Senate involved in AGOA and MCC eligibility processes.

“I spent a day in Congress and met the chairman of the main committee which approves the MCC financing and AGOA eligibility.

“I also met the chairman of the Senate committee on foreign relations and the chairman of the senate sub-committee on Africa.

“I also met a number of other congressional leaders who have always been active on AGOA and MCC issues,” said Mr Setipa.

The minister said MCC officials who were in the country this week also acknowledged the strides Lesotho had made in implementing the reforms.

MCC Managing Director for Operations in Africa, Jason Small, and Managing Director of Selection and Eligibility Christopher Maloney were in Lesotho this week for a three-day visit that ended on Tuesday to assess Lesotho’s eligibility for a second multi-million dollar compact grant.

“They were happy that the reforms process is on track. The discussions that we had were very frank, and in their own words, they were very satisfied with the progress that has been made and we have a very positive outlook in March,” said Mr Setipa.

“The only concern is whether the appointment of all the principals in the US system would have been completed by March and we are hoping that everybody will be in place and we will be able to get Lesotho into the second compact. And there is a delegation that is coming soon from the USTR office.”

 

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