South Africa's ambiguous stance on Russia has led to the US Congress and Senate noting that the docking of the Lady R vessel, in Simon’s Town naval base in May, and the joint military drills with Russia in February, “call into question South Africa’s eligibility for trade benefits under the US African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) owing to the statutory requirement that beneficiary countries not engage in activities that undermine US national security or foreign policy interests”.
A key factor that has undermined US goodwill is the various confusing actions and statements from South Africa's government. If the country cares about its Agoa eligibility and the tens of thousands of jobs it creates, then the time has come to clarify that the country does not threaten US security interests, says business organisation Business Leadership South Africa CEO Busi Mavuso.
“We must come out with the facts about the Lady R, what it was doing docking in secret in South Africa and what was loaded on to it before departure. We must explain the landing of Russian aircraft at the Waterkloof Air Force Base.
"We must set out a clear policy on the supply of weapons to Russia, and why the US should be able to trust that our stance of neutrality means, at minimum, that we will not in any way fan the flames of war in Europe,” she emphasises in her latest weekly newsletter.
This clarity needs to be backed up by a capable diplomatic effort by the country's foreign service in the US.
Eligibility for Agoa will be determined before the end of the year and the White House will announce which countries will continue to benefit under Agoa in January. South Africa has a narrow window of opportunity to make the case that it is in US interests to continue to give South Africa access to US markets, Mavuso says.
When Agoa was renewed in 2015, African nations worked together to convince American politicians that it was wise to renew Agoa. South Africa played an important part in that effort.
“The Department of International Relations and Cooperation now needs to put in place an equivalent strategy, drawing on our most experienced trade negotiators.
“Business stands ready and willing to support that effort with the data and research that may help, but, ultimately, it is our elected representatives and diplomats that must advance the South African cause. If we do not get it right in the next few months, it will result in another significant blow to the economy,” Mavuso asserts.