A mission from the United States of America (USA) Government’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is expected in the country this weekend to discuss with Malawi authorities over the recently imposed restrictions on tobacco exports.
US Embassy public affairs officer Douglas Johnston said in a statement issued yesterday that CBP executive assistant commissioner Brenda Smith will lead a delegation to Malawi as a follow up on the Withhold and Release Order (WRO) imposed on Malawi tobacco in November 2019.
Reads the statement in part: “Smith is scheduled to hold meetings with officials from the Ministries of Labour, Agriculture and Trade, as well as visit some tobacco companies and tobacco growers.”
The WRO, currently in force, allows the US to detain tobacco imported from Malawi believed to have been produced with forced labour.
Since November, shipments of tobacco export consignments arriving in USA are first detained at the port of entry before being subjected to heavy scrutiny or screening by authorities to ensure that importers prove to the US authorities that tobacco from Malawi is not produced with child labour which is prohibited under US law.
Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism spokesperson Mayeso Msokera yesterday confirmed receiving the communication of the visit by US officials, saying they are scheduled to arrive this weekend.
Meanwhile, Tobacco Association of Malawi (Tama) Farmers Trust chief executive officer Felix Thole yesterday said the association, with a membership of over 59 000 farmers, has also been invited to be part of the meeting with the visiting mission.
But he maintained that contrary to alleged forced labour and child labour practices reports levelled against Malawi by the USA in recent years, Malawi has ‘hugely’ invested in the fight against child labour practices.
Said Thole: “More money has been spent by the industry stakeholders including tobacco buying companies. Malawi has done a lot in fighting child labour and it a was surprise to us [to learn] about the WRO on Malawi tobacco.”
Speaking when he opened a 2019 Tobacco Industry Seminar in Lilongwe late November, Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Kondwani Nankhumwa downplayed the decision by the US government, saying “there is nothing to worry about.”
The decision by the US, if sustained, is likely going to negatively affect the economy owing to the fact that tobacco is still the country’s main foreign exchange earner, contributing at least 60 percent of foreign exchange earnings and accounting for at least 25 percent of tax revenue.