Washington - President Jacob Zuma has welcomed the “commitment” he secured in Washington this week for the renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), the American legislation which gives South Africa duty-free access to the lucrative US market.
However, in the same statement, Zuma was also less definite that South Africa’s participation would be renewed when he said: “We are also optimistic that the African Growth and Opportunity Act will be renewed and with South Africa’s inclusion.”
He issued the statement about his participation in the US-Africa Leaders’ Summit here which he said had reshaped relations between Africa and the US.
“We successfully conveyed the message that South Africa’s graduation from Agoa would damage the AU’s regional integration initiatives, as well as industries in neighbouring countries that benefit from South Africa’s manufacturing capability,” Zuma said.
“Benefits to South Africa are immense, we can only trust that this matter will be concluded successfully.”
Agoa, which began in 2000, has significantly boosted South African exports to the US. But powerful US business interests and lawmakers are calling for South Africa to be removed from Agoa if it is renewed for other African countries next year, because South Africa is richer and because they say South Africa has discriminated against US imports.
Zuma and Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies heavily lobbied both the Obama administration and especially the US Congress which will decide whether or not to renew Agoa in general, and whether South Africa should remain.
The Obama administration this week repledged its support for a general renewal of Agoa but, significantly, has not publicly backed South Africa’s continued participation. The three powerful legislators Zuma met on Tuesday also did not commit themselves publicly to back South Africa’s renewal.
Davies said after the meeting that he was optimistic but also did not say the lawmakers had undertaken to back South Africa’s bid. Instead he described how he was trying to remove “irritants” from the relationship to secure South Africa’s renewal.
These include health restrictions on pork and beef imports and anti-dumping duties on poultry imports.
Zuma also welcomed America’s pledge to increase support for African peacekeeping and peacemaking mechanisms. Obama announced a $110 million (R1.1 billion) a year initiative to train and equip African militaries to deploy peacekeepers rapidly in emerging crises. The US would also provide additional equipment to African peacekeepers in Somalia and the Central African Republic, and would support the AU’s efforts to strengthen its peacekeeping institutions.
“They understand our position very clearly that we want support but that this process must be African-led and African-controlled,” Zuma said.
He also welcomed the Mandela Washington Leadership youth initiative established by Obama, which takes African youth to the US for training and leadership mentoring.
However, he said “this programme also needed to have the participation of Africa. There should be a way of involving us in the management of this programme so that there is co-ownership of this important leadership process”. - Independent Foreign Service