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US offers hope on tobacco ban

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The United States (US) Government has said there is a chance that it would lift a ban imposed on tobacco imports from Malawi if it is convinced that forced and child labour in Malawi have ended.

US Embassy acting Public Affairs Officer Bryan Dwyer has said in an email response that child labour is a significant human rights and governance issue and the Government of Malawi should urgently work with partners to eradicate the practice.

“The WRO [withhold release order] may be revoked if there is evidence that the use of forced labour in violation of section 1307 has ceased. In past instances, CBP [US Customs and Border Protection] has modified or revoked WROs in place, where appropriate. Child labour is a significant human rights and governance issue and the Government of Malawi should urgently work with partners to eradicate child labour,” Dwyer said

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According to Dwyer, the US values relationship with Malawi and will continue to support Malawi in its efforts to combat forced and child labour.

In an interview, agricultural expert Tamani Nkhono-Mvula said the US’ ban on tobacco imports from Malawi would have serious negative implications on Malawi’s economy.

“We cannot manage to be losing such important markets [such as the US]. Looking at the influence of America in global trade, such a withdrawal and on such a moral issue [ forced and child labour] has detrimental effects on our reputation as a country. I just hope other countries will not follow suit. What needs to be done now is that the government must issue a statement to clarify what this means to us and I believe that the issues raised are being addressed that we should have this market back,” Nkhono-Mvula said

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Economists Association of Malawi president, Chiku Kalilombe, said the US’ ban on tobacco imports from Malawi would have serious economic repercussions on locals and the country in general.

However, secretary for Agriculture and Irrigation and Water Development, Grey Nyandule-Phiri, has said the government is consulting stakeholders on the issue.

A fortnight ago, the US, which is ranked the world’s second biggest importer of tobacco after Brazil, imports tobacco worth about $653 million per year.

Tobacco accounts for 53 percent of the country’s foreign earnings as it contributed $209.9 million from 143 million kilogrammes in the just-ended tobacco season.

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