OP-EDs

OVER M7 BILLION PAID TO FACTORY WORKERS IN THE LAST 18 YEARS

Conservative estimates would suggest business conducted through AGOA has put more than $500 million USD into the pockets of Basotho textile workers over the last eighteen years, which in turn builds the entire country.

By Rebecca E. Gonzales

It is a distinct pleasure to be with you today to celebrate the launch of Lesotho’s strategy for utilizing the African Growth and Opportunity Act, or AGOA. I want to recognize and thank my colleagues from the USAID Southern Africa Trade and Investment Hub and their counterparts at the Ministry of Trade and Industry for their hard work to develop this strategy through close collaboration.

As a result of our two countries working together, as we do in so many areas, we have a clear path forward to ensure that Lesotho’s private sector can take advantage of AGOA’s tremendous incentives and boost the Mountain Kingdom’s exports to the United States.

The United States and Lesotho have enjoyed a strong bilateral relationship dating back more than half a century. We are very proud of that relationship, one that is built on shared values, mutual respect, and enduring people to people connections. Throughout this partnership, we have supported economic growth and development through programs that build capacity and increase prosperity in both our countries.

This is the foundation for America’s economic engagement across the continent and has been for decades. In announcing his Strategy toward Africa last December, President Trump directed the entire U.S. Government to unify and harness our economic tools and initiatives so that we can do even more to connect U.S. and African businesses with new buyers, suppliers, and investment opportunities.

As part of the Prosper Africa initiative, we are super-charging connections between the U.S. and African private sectors to expand markets for goods and services and also working through technical assistance programs that help nations implement sound trade and investment policies like the plan we are launching today. As the U.S. Ambassador to Lesotho, you have my commitment that I will do everything in my power to help Lesotho prosper.

Now let me put AGOA, this massive program we are discussing here today, into context as part of the Prosper Africa initiative and as a pillar of the U.S.-Lesotho bilateral partnership. So often when we have launches like this one, we are looking narrowly at what is happening today, this week or this year, but when we talk about AGOA, we are talking about nearly two decades of support for Lesotho’s economic development.

Six years before we signed the first MCC compact which transformed the health landscape in this country, we were working together through AGOA. Seven years before the United States began its bilateral PEPFAR program for AIDS relief in this country, we were working together to help Lesotho prosper through AGOA.

So AGOA doesn’t always capture the news headlines the way some of these U.S. programs might, but it is the “work-horse” of our quest to help Lesotho strengthen its economy.

Since 2001, Lesotho’s apparel manufacturers have been strategically and successfully harnessing AGOA benefits to build one of the largest textiles and garment manufacturing industries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Lesotho accounts for over one-fifth of all AGOA apparel exports to the United States. I love to see that “Made in Lesotho” label whenever I am shopping in the United States.

Lesotho’s apparel industry accounts for an estimated 80 percent of the country’s formal manufacturing workforce and a third of its GDP. A third of its GDP! That means jobs and incomes for Basotho.

Conservative estimates would suggest business conducted through AGOA has put more than $500 million USD into the pockets of Basotho textile workers over the last eighteen years, which in turn builds the entire country.

The apparel industry supports several downstream sectors — from the small packaging industry, to road freight transporters, to national utilities. That is how the United States views our economic partnership with Lesotho – a platform for mutually beneficial trade and investment that unlocks the potential of Basotho and helps them prosper as well.

Much as we celebrate Lesotho’s successes under AGOA, we know that still more can be achieved if we act strategically and fully utilize the legislation. Six months ago, when some of you were at my house for America’s Independence Day celebration, I told you this – “When you think of AGOA, I don’t want you to think just Thetsane and textiles. I want you to think trout and technology; fruits and vegetables, handicrafts and flowers.” We know that Lesotho can also add value to its exports by processing raw materials and moving up the value chain in established sectors.

I promised you that my Embassy and my U.S. government colleagues based at the Trade Hub will continue to provide support and training to connect Basotho businesses with the Lesotho market.

The Act offers duty-free access to the United States for over 1,800 product lines, in addition to the over 5,000 products eligible under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program.

That’s why, just as I promised in July, our team at the Embassy and from the USAID Southern Africa Trade and Investment Hub has worked closely with the Ministry of Trade and Industry and other key stakeholders to ensure that Lesotho’s AGOA strategy reflects the priorities and needs of the public and private sectors.

This consultative process has helped make the strategy an actionable one, with specific recommendations that we are committed to supporting.

To succeed, the specific recommendations of the strategy need the ongoing support of all of us — distinguished government representatives, private-sector leaders, and business owners.

In particular, I want to recognize the National AGOA Steering Committee, whose members are here with us today. As you know, this committee is at the heart of proposed institutional structure and must be empowered to continue its vital work in order for the strategy to be effective.

The strategy also places great importance on including our colleagues at the Lesotho Millennium Development Agency, which is leading the country’s partnership with the Millennium Challenge Corporation and development of a potential second Lesotho MCC Compact.

As that work progresses — and as we take these next steps guided by the AGOA utilization strategy — we are of course keen to identify areas of further collaboration between the U.S. Government, including the Embassy here and our colleagues at USAID/Southern Africa, and the Government of Lesotho.

We believe we have much to build upon already, and we look forward to continuing and deepening our cooperation. In this way, we are confident that more Basotho businesses will have access to America’s 300 million strong consumer market. And Americans in turn, will be able to find and rely on the label that says, “Made in Lesotho” for so much more than clothing. NW

Rebecca E. Gonzales is the United States of America’s Ambassador to Lesotho. This is the speech she delivered at the lauch of the AGOA Response Strategy at the Avani Lesotho in Maseru on Wednesday, January 22, 2020.

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