The US says it has taken steps to normalise relations with Madagascar

The US says it has taken steps to normalise relations with Madagascar

President Obama has reinstated Madagascar's eligibility for African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) benefits but has withdrawn Swaziland's eligibility.

The US's decision to reinstate AGOA benefits for Madagascar follows successful elections in late 2013 that led to the formation of the country's first democratic government. Madagascar was removed from AGOA in 2010 following a coup in 2009.

The US says it has taken steps to normalise relations with Madagascar, lifted all coup-related restrictions on direct assistance to the Malagasy government, and invited President Rajaonarimampianina to attend the US-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington in August.

Indeed, ahead of the decision, the US recently lifted all remaining restrictions on aid to Madagascar.

At the end of last month, the US said it had lifted all remaining restrictions on direct assistance to the country following its successful elections in 2013 and installation of a new government earlier this year.

US Ambassador Michael Froman said the decision to reinstate Madagascar's AGOA eligibility recognises the nation's return to democratic rule, as well as President Rajaonarimampianina's commitment to promote transparency, combat corruption, and begin rebuilding Madagascar's economy.

"We are pleased that Madagascar has returned to the family of AGOA nations," said US Ambassador Michael Froman. "We are hopeful that Madagascar will take advantage of AGOA's potential to create employment, expand bilateral trade, and contribute to the economic well-being, security, and health of its people."

The US, however, has cut Swaziland from the AGOA duty-free trade programme over concerns about crackdowns on peaceful demonstrations and poor protection of workers' rights. Its exclusion will raise the cost of its exports to US consumers.

In particular, the US said Swaziland had failed to make continual progress in protecting freedom of association and the right to organise. Of particular concern was Swaziland's use of security forces and arbitrary arrests to stifle peaceful demonstrations, and the lack of legal recognition for labour and employer federations.

"The withdrawal of AGOA benefits is not a decision that is taken lightly," said Froman. "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.

"We hope to continue our engagement with the Government of the Kingdom of Swaziland on steps it can take so that worker and civil society groups can freely associate and assemble and AGOA eligibility can be restored."