Tobacco growers, led by Tama Farmers Trust, have told the visiting mission from the United States of America (USA) to consider softening up on its policy thrust to restrict tobacco import from Malawi.
During a meeting held at Tobacco Commission (TC) Headquarters at Kanengo in Lilongwe on Tuesday, the farmers pleaded with the US to remove the Withhold Release Order (WRO) on Malawi tobacco exports effected on November 1 2019, arguing the country has fought hard against both child and forced labour–the reason the US imposed restrictions.
This week, a mission led by executive assistant commissioner (ECA) for US Government’s Customs and Boarder Protection (CBP) Brenda Smith was in the country to discuss with local authorities on the future of WRO.
Tama Farmers Trust chief executive officer Felix Thole in an interview yesterday described the meeting as fruitful.
He said: “We met them from 3pm and we are pleased that this fact-finding mission would give them a better picture about the degree of the fight we are putting against child labour.
“It [the fight against child labour] might not be perfect but we have assured them efforts are there.”
Thole said currently, consignments of tobacco exports destined for the US undergo a ‘tedious’ exercise to get through the US borders.
In a separate interview, TC chief executive officer Kayisi Sadala said the US visitors met ministers of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development as well as Labour and Vocational Training, before holding separate meetings with TC officials, grower representatives and tobacco merchants.
He said: “Basically they came on a fact-finding mission to assess the situation on the ground as regards efforts being undertaken by the country to address the concerns on child labour and forced labour in the tobacco industry.”
In a written response on Tuesday, US Embassy public affairs officer Douglas Johnston assured Capital Hill that the US Government is engaged in trying to help Malawian farmers transition out of tobacco growing as the market for the commodity continues to shrink.
He said the US Government supports the Malawi Government’s commitment to eradicate child and forced labour in the country, stressing that the visit by their mission reinforces the United States’ commitment to positive relationship with Malawi.
“This visit will give EAC Smith a first-hand opportunity to understand the challenges and opportunities and the steps that Malawi must take to deal with the Withhold Release Order,” said Johnston. Since November, shipments of tobacco exports from Malawi to the USA are first detained at the port of entry before being subjected to heavy scrutiny by authorities to allow importers of the leaf prove to US authorities that the tobacco is not produced with child or forced labour, which is prohibited under US law.