South Africa’s trade relations with the US look likely to get strained even further as the renewal of the African Growth Opportunity Act (Agoa) hangs in the balance on the back of pressure on the US Congress to alienate South Africa.
This comes after renewed pressure from US Congressmen for President Joe Biden to conduct a comprehensive review of the bilateral relationship between the US and South Africa, and file the findings of the review within the next six months, following the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling on the case against Israel.
If this comprehensive review and unclassified determination finds that South Africa’s action undermined the US national security or foreign policy interests, South Africa could be kicked out of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa).
Agoa provides eligible sub-Saharan African countries with duty-free access to the US market for more than 1800 products, in addition to the more than 5000 products that are eligible for duty-free access under the Generalized System of Preferences program.
Since Israel is being heavily supported by the US in its military action in Gaza, South Africa’s legal action to stop the war in Gaza could be interpreted by the US as undermining its national security interest, which is one of the conditions for being disqualified from Agoa.
The US has been mulling delaying an early renewal of Agoa for South Africa, after disproved allegations that South Africa was selling weapons and ammunition to Russia in its war against Ukraine.
In a Bill submitted by Democrat congressman Jared Moskowitz and Republican congressman John James this week, the Congressmen want Biden, within 30 days, to provide unclassified determination explicitly stating whether South Africa has engaged in activities that undermine US national security or foreign policy interests.
Moskowitz and James Bill comes after Pennsylvania senator John Fetterman last month slammed South Africa for bringing a case of genocide against Israel, saying that South Africa “ought to sit this one out”.
The Bill still has to be discussed and passed by the Senate and House of Representatives of the US in Congress.
“Not later than 30 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the President, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defence, shall certify to the appropriate congressional committees and release publicly an unclassified determination explicitly stating whether South Africa has engaged in activities that undermine United States national security or foreign policy interests,” read the Bill.
“The President, in consultation with the Secretary of State, the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, the Secretary of Defence, the United States Ambassador to South Africa, and the heads of other departments and agencies that play a substantial role in United States relations with South Africa, shall conduct a comprehensive review of the bilateral relationship between the United States and South Africa.
“Not later than 120 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the President shall submit to the appropriate congressional committees a report that includes the findings of the review required by subsection.”
Last month, the ICJ found it plausible that acts of genocide were being committed in Gaza after South Africa brought a case against Israel of contravening the Genocide Convention by allegedly committing acts of genocide against Palestinians through its military action in Gaza.
More than 30 000 Palestinians have been killed, mostly women and children, since Israel launched its offensive against Hamas in retaliation for its attack on Israeli towns on October 7 last year.
However, the Bill said the actions of South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), were inconsistent with its publicly stated policy of non-alignment in international affairs.
It said the South African government had a history of siding with malign actors, including Hamas, which is designated Foreign Terrorist Organisation and a proxy of the Iranian regime by the US government, adding that South Africa continued to pursue closer ties with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Russian Federation.
“It is the sense of Congress that it is in the national security interest of the United States to deter strategic political and security cooperation and information sharing with the PRC and the Russian Federation, particularly any form of cooperation that may aid or abet Russia’s illegal war of aggression in Ukraine or its international standing or influence,” it said.
“The ANC’s foreign policy actions have long ceased to reflect its stated stance of non-alignment, and now directly favour the PRC, the Russian Federation, and Hamas, a known proxy of Iran, and thereby undermine United States national security and foreign policy interests.”
COSATU said it noted with disappointment the draft Bill before the United States Congress calling for a review of US-South African relations.
“Naturally we disagree with the content and premise of the Bill and been assured by parties in the US that it is unlikely to be approved by Congress,” the union said.
“Whilst we appreciate this reassurance, given the importance of South Africa’s trade and other relations with the US, one of our largest trading partners, it is a real politik reminder that all relationships need constant investment and dialogue, Cosatu said.
It said South Africa’s foreign policy was rooted in non-alignment, the peaceful multilateral resolutions to conflicts and the African continent's development.
“COSATU will continue working with South Africa’s government and Organised Business at Nedlac to strengthen our relations with all of our key trading partners across the world. This is key to protecting and creating thousands of jobs in the mining, manufacturing, agricultural, tourism and other critical sectors,” it said.
Cosatus said the success this partnership achieved last year included the hosting of the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) Forum in Johannesburg where for the first time a dedicated Labour Leg featured.