Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton pause during their presidential town hall debate at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, on October 9, 2016. File picture: Rick Wilking

Johannesburg - South Africa has every reason to worry about the outcome of the US presidential election tomorrow - the US is one of South Africa’s biggest trading partners and with Donald Trump, who has painted himself as a protectionist, having closed the gap on Hillary Clinton, the election result is too close to call and markets are on a knife-edge.

In June, when South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Nkoana Maite-Mashabane, was asked about her position on US elections, she said she did not really care who won.

This begs the question: “Can Africa’s most sophisticated economy afford to ignore the US elections?” said Chelsea Markowitz, a visiting researcher at SA Institute for International Affairs.

South African stocks ended the week at an eight month-low on Friday, after three days of losses. The rand also weakened by 1.15 percent to the dollar.

Christopher Gilmour, an investment analyst at Absa Wealth and Investment Management, said while Trump and Clinton were fierce rivals, the presidential hopefuls were united by one thing: their opposition to free trade.

“America’s wavering devotion to free trade has tongues wagging. What does this growing protectionist attitude on international trade mean for the global economy? More pertinently, what does it mean for South Africa?”

Hard to predict

Gilmour said while it was hard to predict what the next president of the US might mean for South Africa and the continent at large, the possible impact could not be ignored.

He said of the candidates, Clinton was perhaps less likely to sour trade relations between South Africa and the US.

“If Clinton wins the election, I think it would be very much business as usual.”

Additionally, said Gilmour, Clinton, as secretary of state during the first Obama administration, showed enthusiasm towards the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) advocating for the agreement’s 10-year extension last year.

“Clinton would probably be more inclined to maintain the good relations South Africa has with the US.”

While his brash declarations on international trade had been primarily directed to only China and Mexico, Trump’s position on Africa remained a mystery, Gilmour said. “Republicans haven’t been particularly disposed to South Africa and Africa. The US might be more inclined to take a harder stance under a Republican administration.”

Colen Garrow, an independent economist at Meganomics, said South Africa was but one of these signatories to Agoa, which comes up for renewal again in 2025. “What makes the current agreement different from the original one is that it is subject to an open cycle review.”

“In other words, if the US takes a poor view of South Africa for any reason, it doesn’t have to wait until 2025 to review the terms and conditions of Agoa, but can do the review more quickly. It is worth remembering that there is a large amount of bipartisan support for South Africa. In other words, a Trump victory would have to shepherd changes through both Congress and the Senate. That may not necessarily be a fait accompli, and could take time.”