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Top US senator demands 'immediate' review of SA’s Agoa status

President Cyril Ramaphosa

President Cyril Ramaphosa

7th November 2023

By: News24Wire

  

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A US senator has written a document proposing several amendments to legislation renewing the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), including that there should be an immediate review of South Africa’s status for preferential trade access. 

Democratic Senator Chris Coons’s discussion draft for the Agoa Renewal Act of 2023 proposes that the programme, which is expiring in 2025, should be extended by 16 years. He says that while the US president currently reviews the eligibility of countries annually, this should be changed to every three years. He, however, also recommended that the US "undertake an immediate out-of-cycle review of South Africa", no later than 30 days after the legislation is enacted.

Coons, who chairs the US Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, was part of a group of both Democratic and Republican legislators who asked the White House to move the Agoa summit away from South Africa, accusing it of deepening its military relationship with Russia.

The group also questioned South Africa's eligibility for trade benefits under Agoa.

Coons has close ties with South Africa, and in his youth volunteered with the South African Council of Churches, then led by late Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. In 1986, he published a book about the anti-apartheid disinvestment movement among US universities.  

In the end, the Agoa summit was still hosted in South Africa last week, and the country continues to push to remain part of Agoa.

There has, however, been significant pushback from US lawmakers, with Republican senator Jim Risch last week expressing concern over South Africa's geopolitical stance.

"I was also disappointed to learn that South Africa will remain fully eligible for Agoa’s duty-free trade preferences in 2024, despite South Africa’s continued actions that subvert US national security and foreign policy interests," he said in a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US trade representative Katherine Tai.

"South Africa’s relationship with Russia, and most recently with Iran and Hamas, undermine necessary eligibility safeguards in the Agoa statute, and the administration failed to take standard formal actions to communicate Agoa-related concerns to South Africa through a warning letter or demarche.

"The administration’s handling of Agoa, exemplified by its posture toward South Africa, make it clear that Congress must take course-correcting action."

SA’s Trade, Industry and Competition Minister Ebrahim Patel told SAfm on Monday that the country was proposing a two-stage renewal process for Agoa.

"[This is] so that we move rapidly to consolidate what we have and then sit down and work through how we can improve it," the minister said.

Patel said, in response to a question on the criticism by US politicians, that that country’s "political system is such that you are never going to get absolute unanimity on anything."  

"What we have tried to do… is build bipartisan support. Over the last few days, we have had very significant support expressed for Agoa.

"There is no question about it – the appetite for the extension of Agoa has grown enormously, and it is the first part of what South Africa is seeking to do.

"Once we have got that locked in, then it is a matter of ensuring that we get the widest coverage. We have built very strong support within the business community, both in the United States and in South Africa, for the extension of Agoa and for the inclusion, not only of South Africa, but all of the countries that are currently the beneficiaries," Patel said. 

Agoa gives duty-free access to 25% of South African exports to the US, SA's second-biggest single-country trading partner after China.

Edited by News24Wire

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