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The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) welcomes the successful AGOA Forum held from 2 to 4 November 2023 in Johannesburg. We support government’s efforts to extend South Africa and other African countries’ membership in AGOA and negotiate a new and enhanced AGOA that will increase the scope of products covered to further incentivise Africa and South Africa’s economic and industrial development, job creation and decent work. The Federation applauds the leadership by the Minister for Trade, Industry and Competition, Ebrahim Patel, who is leading AGOA engagements on behalf of the African Union.
South Africa, like all nations in this globalised era, is heavily dependent upon trade with other countries. Our key trade and investment partners include the world’s leading economies, in particular the United States, the European Union, China and Japan. AGOA has had a positive impact upon not only South Africa but Africa as a whole. It provides reduced tariff access for large volumes of South African goods to the US market, currently the world’s largest economy. Our mining, manufacturing and in particular auto-manufacturing, clothing, jewellry, chemical and agricultural exports have benefited from this favourable tariff access.
AGOA is renewed annually with AGOA itself due to expire in September 2025. Not only do US companies investing locally support 450 000 South African jobs; but even more indirect local jobs in the mining, manufacturing and agricultural sectors benefit from our large volumes of exports to the US. The revenues and taxes they generate contribute towards government’s fiscus and thus its ability to fund badly needed public services and jobs. The overwhelming majority of these workers are members of COSATU Affiliates.
COSATU’s mandate is to protect workers’ jobs and to tackle unemployment. We cannot afford a single job loss with an unemployment rate of 42.1% and when 60% of young people struggle to find work. The Federation has been deeply dismayed by statements by some politicians who have sought to weaponise trade relations and undermine South Africa’s sovereignty and hard-won non-aligned stance and firm belief in the need for conflicts to be resolved through peaceful dialogue. Workers should not be punished because of geo-political crises in the world that they have nothing to do with or little power to resolve.
AGOA has been important not only to South Africa’s industrial development but also to those of other African states, in particular our neighbouring countries, e.g. Botswana who’s direct exports to the US pale into insignificance compared to its value add exports to South Africa’s auto-manufacturing sector which are then included in vehicle exports to the US. South Africa’s exit from AGOA would not only be a devastating blow to local jobs but also those throughout the region and thus further add pressure to an already unmanageable migration flow to South Africa.
For the first time the annual AGOA Forum included Organised Labour where COSATU and our sister union movements from across South Africa, Africa and the US have placed the cause of decent work firmly on the AGOA agenda. A renewed AGOA needs to include provisions to support compliance good labour practices and penalise employers who flout labour laws. COSATU is heartened by the positive support we have received from the US labour movement which has a long history of solidarity with South African working-class struggles. The Federation is inspired by the active participation and clear sense of unity displayed at the AGOA Forum by the trade union movement across South Africa, Africa and the US in support of a new AGOA which places decent work and fair labour practices, job creation and economic development at its heart.
Whilst the Federation supports South Africa’s continued membership of AGOA, it is important our historic non-aligned role be strengthened. It is critical government and business simultaneously expand trade and investment with other larging trading partners such as the European Union, China, Japan, India, Brazil and most importantly the African continent. Such efforts must include South Africa’s BRICS partners and negotiations to establish an African Continental Free Trade Area. With a 42.1% unemployment rate, we need to aggressively invest in all industrial and economic development and export opportunities.
Issued by COSATU