Peter Fabricius Foreign Editor Washington
PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma met three key US congressmen on Capitol Hill yesterday as he stepped up his efforts to win congressional approval for South Africa’s continued participation in the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), which gives exporters duty-free access to the lucrative US market.
Zuma met Delaware Senator Chris Coons, the chair of the Senate foreign relations subcommittee on African affairs, Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, and Representative Ed Royce, the chairman of the House of Representatives foreign affairs committee.
Zuma is in Washington for President Barack Obama’s US-Africa summit, which climaxes with a meeting between Obama and about 40 African heads of state and government today.
Though the Obama administration has made clear that it supports the renewal of Agoa with South Africa’s continued participation, when it expires next year, it is Congress that will make the decision.
Important US business interests have lobbied these three and other Congress legislators to oppose South Africa’s continued participation because, they say, as an upper-middle-income country it does not need Agoa benefits – and also because they complain it is discriminating against US imports.
On Monday Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies participated in the Agoa Forum, where the future of the initiative was discussed. He told journalists that broad agreement had been reached between African governments and the US administration and legislators that Agoa should be renewed, with improvements.
Davies said that US Secretary of State John Kerry, US Trade Representative Michael Froman and key legislators from the Democratic and Republican parties had participated in the forum. All had agreed that Agoa should be renewed and that this could happen before the end of this year, he said.
Kerry had pointed out that Agoa benefited the US as well as Africa, citing the example of a Ford engine manufacturing plant in South Africa which had created 800 jobs at another Ford plant in Kansas. Froman had added that Agoa had created 120 000 jobs in the US.
“There is a feeling on both sides that we need a seamless renewal of Agoa,” Davies said, adding that South Africa wanted it renewed for 15 years, which would give potential investors certainty that if they invested in an Agoa beneficiary country to export to the US, they would not suddenly lose their preferential access
But Davies said that South Africa’s own status as a beneficiary of Agoa had not been explicitly discussed, though he suggested that there had been support for its continued participation. Page 22