September 5, 2002

Lesotho 7th Largest Exporter to U.S. from Sub-Saharan Africa

Lesotho has been listed as the seventh largest exporter to the US market in the sub-Saharan region. According to the latest statistics released by U.S trade authorities, Lesotho continues to enjoy strong growth in it's exports to the U.S. under the terms of the African Growth and Opportunity Act and is now the seventh largest exporter to the U.S. from Sub-Saharan Africa.

"With the exception of South Africa, the top four are oil producers," the statement from the United States Embassy in Maseru mentioned.

It stated the in the first six month of 2002, Lesotho exported to the U.S. $142.7 million in goods. This figure, compared with $85.7 million for the first six months of 2001, and $140.3 million for all of 2000 shows a significant growth. "Significantly, Lesotho's continued growth in exports comes when an economic slowdown has dramatically reduced trade between Africa and the U.S.," added the statement. It explained Lesotho's export growth came despite a reduced overall trade between U.S. and sub-Saharan Africa (exports plus imports) which fell nearly 28% in the first half of 2002 from the same period in 2001, as both exports and imports plummeted. U.S exports were down 26% to $2.8 billion, while imports in the first half fell almost 29% from the same period in 2001, to $8.3 billion, as the U.S. recession caused a sharp decline in demand for oil, diamonds, and platinum group metals. AGOA imports, according to statistics, were nearly $4 billion, 20% more than in the first six months of 2001.

"Textiles and apparel accounted for $365 million of the total, more than a seven-fold increase from 2001. Transportation equipment also more than doubled, although petroleum products continued to account for more than three-quarters of AGOA imports," explained the statement. Nigeria, Gabon, and South Africa were top three AGOA beneficiary countries, but Lesotho, Madagascar, Mauritius, and Kenya are also said to have experienced strong growth in AGOA exports to the United States.

In a separate development, Siemens Telecommunications has won the largest telecommunications contract awarded in Lesotho to date, by signing a R211m deal with the privatised operator Telecom Lesotho. Siemens will provide wireless local loop technologies to extend basic telephony services into many areas of Lesotho. The work has already begun, starting in Maseru, the capital, and surrounding areas.

The benefits of a wireless local loop system include a faster installation speed than networks based on copper wire, and a reduced risk of interruptions as there is no copper wire to steal. The announcement follows the restructuring of Lesotho's telecommunications industry, and the privatisation of the former Lesotho Telecommunications Corporation. The business is jointly owned by Mountain Kingdom Communications and the Lesotho government. The wireless network will have an initial subscriber capacity of 24.000 people, with a goal of bumping that up to 290.00 by Christmas. However, a study by Telecom Lesotho found that up to 150.000 customers would like to receive a telephone at some time in the future and there was already a waiting list of 18.000.

Telecom Lesotho's CEO, Adri van der Veer, said the expansion programme would reach the remote rural areas which have been excluded from the main telecommunications trunk network. Siemens Telecommunications CEO Pete da Silva said the project consolidated his company's position as a leading supplier of technology for fixed line networks in southern Africa. (MOPHEME - THE SURVIVOR; BUSINESS DAY)

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