Nothing resolved at AGOA Forum – Dion George

DA MP says several influential members of Congress expressed their concern over South Africa’s behavior

Nothing resolved at AGOA Forum

5 November 2023

The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Forum has concluded with no certainty on whether the agreement will be extended, on whether its design will be changed, or whether South Africa will continue to enjoy its benefits.

AGOA was designed as a temporary 8-year trade benefit covering the period October 2000 to September 2008. It was extended twice, first to 2015 and then to September 2025, when it is due to expire.

Every year, the USA administration, not Congress, reviews the membership of participant countries and, if they do not comply with the requirements of the Act, suspends their benefit. Most recently Uganda, Gabon, Niger and the Central African Republic were removed, specifically for their violation of human rights.

South Africa benefited significantly from AGOA and had taken for granted that it would pass the annual review and that the Act would be extended. Both assumptions were wrong. The ANC government veered off South Africa’s non-aligned position and sided with Russia in its war on Ukraine. This placed SA’s annual renewal at risk. The Democratic Alliance (DA) sent a delegation to Washington DC to ensure that it was understood that the ANC government’s position on Russia is not unanimous. South Africa subsequently avoided a carve-out and its membership was renewed for 2024.

The next hurdle is higher. Congress will decide on AGOA’s future and South Africa’s eligibility to benefit. Congress is currently considering whether AGOA in its current form will be continued or whether it will evolve to a different arrangement entirely. South Africa’s call for a 10-year extension appears to ignore what actually needs to be decided.

Prior to the Forum, several influential members of Congress expressed their concern over South Africa’s behavior and requested that the Forum be moved to another country. At the start of the Forum, concern was raised again at the decision to hold the Forum in Johannesburg, with specific reference to South Africa’s association with Iran.

In this complex environment, the choices South Africa makes will determine whether we retain the preferential trade benefits or not. The ANC government must place the interests of battling South African households above its own.

As the forum concluded, the urgency of confirming AGOA’s renewal at the earliest opportunity was underscored. A timely resolution will allow us to delve into the evolution of AGOA with the depth and consideration it warrants. This requires the consent of the US Congress at a time when South Africa’s conduct has brought its relationship with the US into question. Securing an advantageous position for South Africa is imperative and will require concerted effort. The DA remains steadfast in this pursuit.

We will continue our work to ensure that the voice of South Africans is heard above the noise generated by the ANC government’s cozy relationships with Russia and Iran in particular. Our economy does not benefit from these associations. These are purely in the interests of the ANC.

Our objective remains to navigate South Africa through the AGOA renewal or evolution process to achieve the most favourable outcome for our economy that needs to grow to generate the jobs we so desperately need. The stakes are high and the DA is ready.

Issued by Dion George, DA Shadow Minister of Finance, 5 November 2023