TRADE Minister Tefo Mapesela is tomorrow scheduled to meet water bottling companies for a dialogue to deliberate on pertinent issues affecting the industry.
The meeting is expected to be held at the ministry’s boardroom in Maseru to discuss among other issues, the lack of operational standardisation mechanisms for the water bottling industry.
There are several local companies that are producing bottled water in the country but there is poor production standards infrastructure which exposes consumers to health risks.
Some bottlers are reported to be operating in their garages but Mr Mapesela says there is need for formalisation of the industry to ensure that it creates jobs.
“We have the opportunity to transform the country’s economy with water alone so we have to empower our local bottlers so that they can produce water that is safe for consumption,” Mr Mapesela said.
The minister indicated that the ministry has plans to control water imports to secure the market for local producers.
“It is in the interest of our local producers to control bottled water imports so that they can grow. Our local producers are unable to supply the formal market due to the suspicious quality of their products.”
Mr Mapesela said Lesotho has a chance to export bottled water to the United States under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). He said the country can also export to the European Union (EU) through the quota and tariff free market, Everything but Arms (EBA).
AGOA gives duty-free and quota-free access to the US market to eligible Sub-Saharan African countries including Lesotho. The legislation, which was approved by the US Congress in May 2000 is meant to incentivise African countries to open their economies and build free markets.
It was renewed for another 10 years in June 2015 as the AGOA Extension and Enhancement Act and amended to allow the US to withdraw, suspend or limit benefits if designated AGOA countries do not comply with its eligibility criteria.
Lesotho currently exports textiles and garments to the US market under AGOA.
The EU under the Generalised Scheme of preferences and the EBA arrangement offers least developing countries and lower income countries the trade preference of duty free and quota free exports into the EU. The countries can export anything except arms, sugar, bananas and rice.
“All the international trade opportunities that we have are meaningless to us if we cannot use them to our advantage as country.”
Mr Mapesela said the ministry is engaging consultant who will develop a water standard and train producers how to adhere to set standards.
He however, said some water bottlers are resisting the formulation of a standardisation framework.
“That resistance makes one to believe that there is something they (water bottlers) are not doing right, which is why they are not embracing the development of water standards.”
He added they want to see the development of the standard completed by December this year.