Minister of Commerce, Industry and Trade,
EU Ambassador to Eswatini,
Representatives of the Government of the Kingdom of Eswatini,
Members of the private sector,
Colleagues and special guests,
All protocols observed.
It is a distinct pleasure to be with you today at Eswatini’s Official launch of the AGOA and SADC EU EPA strategies and action plans. You’ve just heard my esteemed EU colleague explain some of those acronyms — let me explain the intent of AGOA, the U.S. African Growth and Opportunity Act.
The main purpose of AGOA is to enhance market access to the United States for qualifying sub-Saharan African countries, including Eswatini. AGOA offers incentives to African countries to open their economies and build free markets, providing duty-free access to the U.S. market for over 6400 trade products.
The AGOA Utilization Strategy and Implementation Plan for the Kingdom of Eswatini being launched today provides a roadmap or recommendations for expanding and diversifying Eswatini’s exports to maximize benefits offered under the AGOA program. The Plan was developed with support from the USAID Southern Africa Trade and Investment Hub (USAID TradeHub), the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Trade, and with extensive input from the private sector.
The U.S. Government has been a proud partner of the private sector in Eswatini, particularly firms seeking to explore access to the U.S. market through AGOA.
Through the USAID TradeHub, the U.S. Government has collectively, within Southern Africa facilitated nearly $90 million dollars in African intra-regional trade and exports to the United States, including through AGOA. It has also facilitated $177 million dollars in private-sector investment ($114.2 million in agriculture and $63 million in non-agriculture sectors). Additionally, the U.S. Government, through the USAID TradeHub, has facilitated $16 million dollars in agriculture-related finance and formed 63 public-private partnerships. That’s a lot of trade!
While Eswatini exports into the U.S. market have been dominated by sugar, textiles and garments, diversification remains an opportunity to be explored. The USAID TradeHub supports export firms with market entry and trade enhancing services. For example, the USAID TradeHub has enabled Black Mamba, a female co-owned social enterprise working with 60 smallholders, to access U.S. buyers and new investment to expand operations.
The USAID TradeHub is also supporting partner firms to explore opportunities online in e-commerce and virtual trade shows, which have become particularly relevant in the light of the challenges posed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. For example, local firms Black Mamba and Eswatini Kitchen both participated strongly in the USAID TradeHub supported Specialty Food Live! 2021, a virtual event held in January.
This year, the USAID TradeHub has prioritized the following products to support diversification of exports from Eswatini to South Africa and the United States: Clothing, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), leather products, food ingredients, gourmet foods such as chili sauces, handicrafts, and accessories.
Working with Trade Promotion Service Providers (TPSPs), such as the Eswatini Investment Promotion Agency (EIPA) and Business Eswatini, the USAID TradeHub has assisted export ready firms in Eswatini to participate in both physical and virtual market linkage and business to business (B2B) events to engage with potential buyers, showcase their products and start business discussions. Some of these efforts have resulted in export deals being facilitated, with some orders being placed, while others are currently being processed.
In the face of challenges imposed on businesses by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the USAID TradeHub, in partnership with the Eswatini Investment Promotion Authority, Business Eswatini, and the Eswatini Textile and Apparel Trade Association, began a pilot program to support textile and apparel companies in the country to produce and supply personal protective equipment (PPE) in order to salvage some of the jobs lost to the pandemic and to ensure that healthcare workers and the general population would have access to much-needed protective equipment.
Three companies formed part of this PPE pilot scheme and were further supported with U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA listing to increase their chances of exporting PPE products into the U.S. market.
Further to that, the USAID TradeHub has also supported three Eswatini PPE firms to diversify their marketing channels, through online listing of those firms on e-commerce platforms, where all three firms can supply an estimated 4.6 million units per year at an estimated value of $9.2 million dollars.
The USAID TradeHub has been supporting Eswatini firms with market linkages with U.S. buyers for PPE through business to business (B2B) events and virtual buyer missions. As a result of this support, two firms have established at least five linkages with U.S. buyers, and these are expected to result in an estimated US$150,000 worth of exports.
The U.S. Government is also supporting handicrafts firms, including handbag, grass mats and toy producers in the Kingdom to export to the United States. Handicrafts suppliers have been linked with renowned U.S. accessories buyers via buyer missions. To date, products valued at $90,914.22 have been exported from Eswatini to the United States. We are proud of the work that SWIFT, a women owned firm, is doing in supporting handicrafts firms not only in Eswatini but across Southern Africa.
Honorable Minister, the launch of the AGOA Utilization Strategy and Implementation Plan for the Kingdom of Eswatini could not have come at a more-needed time to assist in economic recovery from the negative effects of COVID-19. Exports, through the AGOA program, provide entrepreneurs with a chance to revive their firms which have suffered heavily, while providing much-needed jobs to revitalize the economy.
The U.S. Government will continue supporting Eswatini to strengthen institutions that prepare exporters to meet complex market entry requirements, including the need for certification, U.S. FDA label review, understanding buyer requirements and linking Eswatini exporters to U.S. buyers.
Allow me to reaffirm the U.S. Government’s commitment to supporting the Eswatini Government in its efforts to achieve its national goals espoused in the National Development Strategy (Vision 2022), and The Kingdom of Eswatini Strategic Road Map (2019-2022).
I am grateful for the efforts of the Government of the Kingdom of Eswatini, along with its private and civil society partners, in contributing to the AGOA Utilization Strategy. I now look forward to its implementation. We hope that firms will take full advantage of the opportunities presented by the AGOA program to benefit the Eswatini economy.