WASHINGTON, June 26- The United States removed Swaziland from a lucrative trade pact Thursday due to concerns over workers’ rights, as it allowed Madagascar back in after the island restored democracy.
President Barack Obama pointed to Swaziland’s use of force against demonstrations and lack of recognition of labor unions as he removed the impoverished kingdom from the Africa Growth Opportunity Act, which offers preferential access to the US market for goods from some 40 sub Saharan nations that meet political and economic standards.
US Trade Representative Michael Froman said Washington hoped 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,” Froman 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.”
Obama restored Madagascar’s AGOA eligibility in the wake of elections late last year. The United States had suspended the island from the trade deal after a military coup in 2009.
The United States already announced in May that it was lifting restrictions on assistance to Madagascar. Obama has invited President Hery Rajaonarimampianina to Washington for a US-Africa summit in August.
The United States established AGOA in 2000 in hopes of promoting democratic and economic standards by offering market access to the world’s largest economy. AGOA has contributed to a sharp rise in Swaziland’s textile industry, which employs 17,000 people.
Swaziland has banned political parties since 1973 and often detains pro-democracy activists and charges them with terrorism. In May, government spokesman Percy Simelane said that Swaziland was doing everything possible to retain its AGOA status.