America’s Ambassador to Lesotho, Matthew T Harrington, has urged government to expand the wool and mohair facility at Elelloang Basali Weavers (EBW) in Teyateyaneng (TY).
The ambassador made the suggestion to the Minister of Trade and Industry, Cooperatives and Marketing, S’khulumi Ntsoaole on Friday after they had met to discuss the prospects of America renewing the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which expires in September 2015. The law, passed by the United States (US) Congress in 2000, allows duty-free access of select products to American markets, while also encouraging good governance for the beneficiaries.
Initially, the legislation was set to expire in 2008, but the American Congress passed the AGOA Acceleration Act of 2004, which extended it to September 2015.
As of August 2014, 41 sub-Saharan African countries were eligible for AGOA benefits, among them Lesotho.
Mr Harrington, who was deployed to Lesotho in September this year, on Friday told the Sunday Express that he was “alarmed” to see the infrastructure at EBW was still “basic”, despite the organisation’s potential to increase production.
“I went to EBW in TY last week and was told they are the main producers of wool and mohair in Lesotho. The product was very impressive, but what surprised me was the infrastructure, which is pretty basic. And if you could figure out a way to attract more investment that could improve that infrastructure so the environment is not only modern but expanded so you could produce more of that product, that is a niche market where Lesotho can really make a difference. But I should emphasise that I was surprised they have been working under those conditions for such a long time,” the Ambassador said.
Mr Harrington also said there were some issues that needed to be resolved regarding Lesotho’s textile factories while negotiations to renew AGOA are underway.
“When the Better Work Basotho programme started, I think it was successful at ensuring garment factories that had participated in it complied with international and domestic labour standards. The challenge, as that programme is wrapping up, is that government made a commitment early on to make it mandatory across the sector, but as I understand it, that has not been done.
“So there are some factories complying, while others are not, so Better Work is wrapping-up its programme in March. It is not going to continue but I guess I would just make a pitch for it as you know the question is not only about purchasing commodities such as Levis and Guess from Lesotho, but also for consumers in the United States: they care very much about whether these products were produced in factories that meet certain standards where workers are well-treated, where unions have a real opportunity to negotiate with management in a constructive way.”
Ambassador Harrington also urged the government to take advantage of the United States trade hub currently based in Botswana, which is mandated to work with governments in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region to provide the kind of technical assistance countries could excel in, such as trade.
Meanwhile, the ambassador also said the key area the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC)—the US’ bilateral foreign aid agency established in 2004—would be focusing on was the development of the private sector.
“The key areas the first Compact focused on were health, water-supply systems and sanitation. However, there was a small part of the Compact that focused on private sector development, for example, land administration. And as we go forward, and I presume you have been involved with discussions with the MCC, if there is more we can do about the private sector, now is the time to have that kind of interest.”
On his part, Mr Ntsoaole said among the many areas with potential that the government was keen to develop, was the agro-sector. Current projects such as Mahobong greenhouse, which produces organic apples and peaches, were already doing well and supplying retailers such as Woolworths and Pick n Pay, the minister further noted.
Mr Ntsoaole added government wanted to decrease imports and focus on producing quality products for both domestic and international markets.
“Seventy-percent of our products come from South Africa and we are committed to working towards reducing this high rate at which we import,” he said.
The minister also said he feared 18 000 textile workers could lose their jobs if the US delays renewing AGOA.
Lesotho’s textile industry is the biggest private-sector employer with an estimated 40 000 workers.