South Africa is in danger of losing its Agoa benefits

Top United States congressmen have given a clear indication that South Africa may lose its substantial trade benefits under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) when the provisions are renewed in 2025.

Senior representatives of both the Democratic and Republican parties have written a joint letter saying President Biden should move the pre-renewal discussions, due to take place in South Africa later this year,  to another country.

The full text of the letter was published by the online publication Daily Maverick. The Agoa Forum, as it is known, takes place annually, alternatively in the US and Africa, and this time it is Africa’s turn. South Africa has been chosen as the host country, but now US politicians want to change the venue.

The reason they give for this hostility is South Africa’s perceived support for Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, despite South Africa’s professed neutrality on the issue.

The letter says South Africa’s actions “call into question its eligibility for trade benefits under Agoa due to the statutory requirements that beneficiary countries not engage in activities that undermine United States national security or foreign policy interests”.

In view of this “we question whether a country in danger of losing Agoa benefits should have the privilege of hosting the 2023 Agoa Forum”, the congressmen state.

“If South Africa continues to demonstrate support for Russia in its unlawful invasion of Ukraine, then hosting the forum in another country in Sub-Saharan Africa would send a clear and important message that the United States continues to stand with Ukraine and will not accept our trading partners provision of aid to Russia’s ongoing and brutal invasion.”

The “If” may or may not be a hopeful sign. Clearly a lot of diplomatic discussions lie ahead, including between the US and South Africa.

In its first reaction to the new development, South Africa’s department of international relations and co-operation was adamant that the Agoa Forum would still be hosted in South Africa. According to Business Day, a spokesman said there had been no decision to move the forum to another country.