Swaziland lost a lucrative trade pact with the U.S. Thursday due to concerns over workers’ rights, while Madagascar was allowed back in after it restored democracy.
Swaziland has been under the rule of King Mswati III since 1986. It is in the midst of crisis governance.
According to the world report of 2012, the country is on the brink of economic disaster due to fiscal indiscipline, government corruption and extravagant expenditure by the royal family.
Although Swaziland has an executive Prime Minister, all powers are vested in the king under Swazi law and custom. He therefore holds supreme executive powers and control over the legislature and the judiciary. There are no political parties in the country as they were banned in 1973.
In the past few years, the government has intensified restrictions on the freedom of association and assembly and permissions to hold political gatherings are often denied.
Civil society has cited police surveillance and harassment that increased in 2011 as some of the human rights abuses in Swaziland.
Political activists have been arrested, tried under security legislation and detained. They have also cited cases of illegal searches, and seizures of office materials, and monitoring of electronic communications, telephones calls, and meetings by the authorities.
The media has not been spared either. They face attacks and threats by the authorities, censorship of their content, and ban on publishing criticism of the ruling party.
In booting Swaziland, President Obama pointed to the lack of recognition of labor unions and use of force against demonstrations as he removed the county from the Africa Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA).
The Act offers preferential access to the US market for goods from some 40 sub-Saharan nations that meet economic and political standards.
Michael Froman, the US Trade Representative said the U.S. was willing to work with Swaziland on improving conditions so it could return to AGOA. “The withdrawal of AGOA benefits is not a decision that is taken lightly,” he said in a statement.
“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.”
President Obama restored Swaziland’s AGOA eligibility late last year. The US had suspended the country from the trade deal after a military coup in 2009.
The US already announced in May that it was lifting restrictions on assistance to Madagascar.
And President Hery Rajaonarimampianina has been invited by Obama to Washington for a US-Africa summit in August.
AGOA was established by the U.S. in 2000 with an objective of promoting economic and democratic standards by offering access to the U.S. markets, and it has contributed to sharp rise in Madagascar’s textile industry which employs 17000 people.
Already, U.S. imports from Swaziland have dwindled in recent years to $58.9m in 2013, most of it clothing. Madagascar shipped $179.8m in goods to the U.S. in 2013
The U.S. President is required by the Congress to determine annually whether sub-Saharan African countries are eligible for AGOA benefits. The criteria include protection of internationally recognized worker rights, economic policies to reduce poverty, progress toward the establishment of a market-based economy, efforts to combat corruption and rule of law.
Government spokesman, Percy Simelane said in May that the government is doing everything possible to meet the AGOA standards.