It is notable that South Africa will still host the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) Private Sector Forum next month, given that several US lawmakers have called for it to be moved elsewhere, and have questioned the country’s preferential trade terms with the US under Agoa as such preferential access to the US markets is open only to African countries that do not threaten American security interests.
This is according to business organisation Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA) CEO Busi Mavuso, who writes in her weekly newsletter that the forum provides an opportunity for South African businesses to show how important the business relationships between the two countries are.
“The forum will draw together 450 representatives from Agoa-eligible countries across the continent, but the fact that it is being hosted here gives South Africa a particular opportunity to advance our relationship with the US.
“We should demonstrate how Agoa benefits the US economy, providing inputs to US supply chains and high-quality goods, from vehicles to wines, for US consumers,” Mavuso asserts.
“Understandably, the Americans have watched with alarm as we’ve conducted joint naval exercises with the Russian and Chinese militaries, allowed a sanctioned Russian ship to land at Simon’s Town and then a sanctioned aircraft to land at Waterkloof.
“Along with that, our officials have made contradictory statements about our position on Russia, while our President met with Vladimir Putin in St Petersburg in July. The anger was palpable in a US House of Representatives hearing on the South Africa-US bilateral relationship last month,” Mavuso outlines.
She informs that, to try and rectify the relationship, several delegations have travelled to Washington, including political and business leaders, to engage the Americans about their concerns.
“There is much we have in common with the US, especially from a private sector perspective. We are both constitutional democracies who believe in the rule of law. Our businesses work in competitive market economies.
“The relationship between the two countries’ private sectors is deep – some 600 American companies operate here and the US is a major export market for our goods and services, one that consistently shows a large trade surplus in our favour.
“It is an important market for our manufactured goods like vehicles, as well as agricultural exports like citrus. Agoa eligibility is key to the export of those goods, among others,” Mavuso notes.
She posits that these efforts have had some success, given that the forum is going ahead.
“I take it as a positive indicator that our relationship is healing, helped by the inquiry into the Lady R matter which found no evidence the ship had taken on board arms destined for Russia’s war effort.
“There has also been better communication of South Africa’s non-aligned position, one that aptly recognises the importance of the West as an established market for our goods, even while the East represents a growing set of new markets with which we must also engage,” Mavuso says.