The U.S. has reinstated the Republic of Mali’s eligibility for preferential trade benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act, effective Wednesday, but is looking into whether Swaziland should lose that status.

This story first appeared in the December 27, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

With the addition of Mali, 40 of the 49 potentially eligible countries in sub-Saharan Africa are now eligible to receive benefits under AGOA in 2014.

The decision this week was the result of a review that the Obama administration conducts annually to examine whether each country already eligible for AGOA benefits has met or made “continual progress” during the year in meeting the trade accord’s eligibility criteria, which include establishment of a market-based economy, rule of law, economic policies to reduce poverty, protection of internationally recognized worker rights and efforts to combat corruption. The review also examines whether circumstances in ineligible countries have improved sufficiently to warrant making them eligible for AGOA benefits.

In January 2013, President Obama determined that Mali was ineligible for AGOA following a government coup in March 2012. In July 2013, Mali inaugurated a democratically elected president. The U.S. Trade Representative’s office said the new government of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has focused on implementing market-based reforms, investing in infrastructure and human capital, and has pledged to address public-sector corruption, combat human rights abuses and strengthen the rule of law.

“We believe that AGOA has enhanced economic progress, promoted stability and improved the business environment for the benefit of both African and American firms,” said USTR Michael Froman.

As part of this year’s review of countries, the U.S. also took special note of its continuing concerns regarding workers’ rights issues in Swaziland, noting that country’s use of security forces and arbitrary arrests to intimidate peaceful demonstrations, and the lack of legal recognition for union federations.

In May, the U.S. will conduct an interim AGOA eligibility review of Swaziland to assess whether it has made measurable progress on the protection of internationally recognized worker rights. The results of the review will be reflected in a recommendation to the President regarding Swaziland’s continued AGOA eligibility.