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US lawmakers 'appreciated' Lady R probe, says Patel as he pushes for renewal of AGOA


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US lawmakers 'appreciated' Lady R probe, says Patel as he pushes for renewal of AGOA

Minister of Trade and Industry Ebrahim Patel
Photo by Donna Slater
Minister of Trade and Industry Ebrahim Patel

26th September 2023

By: News24Wire


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A visit to Washington by a high-profile delegation of ministers, business leaders and unionists lowered tensions around the renewal of South Africa's preferential trade deal with the US, Minister of Trade and Industry Ebrahim Patel has said. 

Patel was briefing Parliament on the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).


The panel, which included Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana and Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, visited the US Capitol in July to meet with lawmakers amid fears South Africa could lose access to AGOA in 2024.  

The trade deal allows 25% of South African exports to enter the US tariff-free, including around $1.5-billion (R28-billion) in vehicle exports.  


In June, a group of US legislators wrote to the White House questioning whether it was appropriate for South Africa to host this year's AGOA forum as it was "in danger of losing AGOA benefits".

The lawmakers said that while South Africa claimed to be neutral in the war in Ukraine, the country had held joint naval exercises with Russia, possibly covertly supplied arms to Russia on the Lady R, and was planning to host Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Brics summit. 

Getting better 

Since the letter was written, the relationship between South Africa and the US appears to have improved. 

Putin, who is the subject of an International Criminal Court arrest warrant, did not attend this year's Brics summit in Sandton. 

And the US has already confirmed that South African will host the AGOA summit as planned in Johannesburg in early November.

Patel described the US visit in July as a success. American lawmakers recognised the importance of President Cyril Ramaphosa setting up a panel to probe whether weapons were loaded onto the Russian warship Lady R in December, he said. 

"It was also deeply appreciated that, in a country like SA the rule of law is important and that the president took the effort to set up a panel with a very respected retired judge," he said. 

"That was recognised as a way in which a democracy deals with issues that have come up."

Earlier this month Ramaphosa said the Lady R panel found no evidence that arms were loaded onto the ship to be transported to Russia. Ramaphosa announced the findings of the probe about seven weeks after Patel and colleagues met with US lawmakers. 

The South African delegation also explained the "complexities that SA needs to navigate and a better understanding of our non-aligned status," said Patel. 

The minister said he was pleased to see that there was a bipartisan push in South Africa across political parties, unions and the private sector to retain South Africa's eligibility in AGO and have the trade deal extended in 2025 when it expires. 

"In matters of international economic diplomacy, we close ranks, we stand together as South Africans," he said. 

The AGOA Forum will take place between 2 and 4 November at the Nasrec Expo Centre in Johannesburg. 


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