Lesotho trade minister Mokhethi Shelile said the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) had helped Lesotho to create jobs and lift thousands out of poverty and his interaction with American buyers at the Agoa Forum in Johannesburg showed there was scope for many, many more.
“I spoke to a major South African buyer and they buy 17 million clothes annually, but then I spoke to an American buyer and they were looking to source 100 million, so as much as Agoa has helped Lesotho over the past two decades, there is the potential for much more,” Shelile said.
A major constraint on the further expansion of Lesotho’s clothing exports to the US is that it sources a fair amount of its textiles from China and the US has banned the import of textiles that contain cotton allegedly grown using forced labour.
Three Chinese textile manufacturers have been banned from exporting their goods to the US as international human rights watchdogs have accused the Chinese government of setting up internment camps in the north-western city of Xinjiang to use forced labour from Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities, including Kazakhs and Kyrgyz in growing cotton. These companies were sanctioned under the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA).
The Chinese government has for years denied the accusations of minority persecution and using forced labour.
“As Lesotho we now have to certify that the textiles we use in our clothing does not use cotton grown using forced labour, so that adds to our costs,” Shelile said.
Lesotho exports of articles of apparel, knit or crocheted to America was $222.33 million in 2021, according to the United Nations COMTRADE database on international trade.
In 2020, global exports of textiles and clothing products were valued at $147.6 billion (R2.8 trillion) and $573.5bn representing about 0.9% and 3.3% of the world merchandise trade, respectively, but China dominates this trade with a share of around a third as it is the largest exporter of textiles and clothing products globally.
“We are aiming to diversify our export offering and expand our share of the supply chain. So although we export leather seats to four motor manufacturers in South Africa, we want to do more. That is why we are excited about American investment interest in aquaculture, as Lesotho’s water is amongst the purest in the world,” he said.