Washington - President Jacob Zuma and Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies got a “very positive” response from three key US congressmen to their appeal for South Africa to remain part of the crucial African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) when it is renewed by next year.

Zuma and his team have been lobbying hard at US President Barack Obama’s US-Africa Leaders Summit for South Africa to continue getting the duty-free access to the key US market that Agoa provides.

Obama himself pledged his administration’s full support for the renewal and improvement of Agoa. But the administration has not come out to say if it also supports the continued participation of South Africa in the programme.

And in any case it is the US Congress not the administration that will decide the future of Agoa, so Zuma and Davies went to Congress on Tuesday to meet three key legislators – Senate foreign relations committee chairman Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, House of Representatives foreign affairs committee chairman Ed Royce, a Republican of California, and Senate foreign relations Africa sub-committee chair Chris Coon, a Democrat from Delaware.

Important US business interests and legislators are calling for South Africa to be “graduated” because they say it is too rich and that the country discriminates against US imports.

These are mainly health restrictions which South Africa has slapped on imports of US pork and beef and anti-dumping restrictions placed on poultry imports. Davies disclosed earlier this week that South Africa had lifted the restrictions on beef imports, had eased those on pork imports and that the US and South Africa’s poultry industries were directly negotiating a solution to their problem. Other official sources said South Africa was considering giving the US poultry producers a quota of duty-free or low tariff imports.

Sources said the legislators were favourably impressed that South Africa was tackling most of the “irritants” in principle and that the issue had now got down to the nuts and bolts.

One source said: “Enough progress has been made on the irritants for the strategic argument to resonate.” However, it also seems South Africa’s participation has not yet been conclusively secured.