US lawmakers push White House to punish South Africa
Four American lawmakers say they are “seriously concerned” that South Africa is set to host a planned US-Africa trade summit later this year and are urging the White House to move it to another country, citing Pretoria’s “deepening” ties with Moscow.
The bipartisan group sent a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and two other senior officials, which was published by The New York Times on Monday.
“We are seriously concerned that hosting the 2023 AGOA Forum in South Africa would serve as an implicit endorsement of South Africa’s damaging support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and possible violation of US sanctions law,” the lawmakers said in the June 9 letter.
Pretoria is set to host the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Forum in Johannesburg, a flagship American trade initiative. The gathering will bring together African leaders and US officials to discuss the future of the program, which is set to expire in 2025.
The letter notes that South African “held joint military exercises with Russia and China, and in April, authorized a Russian military cargo plane also subject to US sanctions to land at a South African air force base.”
Eligible sub-Saharan African countries enjoy duty-free access to the US market for over 1,800 products under the AGOA initiative. South Africa, which is said to be the biggest beneficiary, exported about $3 billion worth of goods to the US through AGOA last year.
However, the bipartisan lawmakers said Pretoria’s alleged “covert” supply of ammunition to Moscow for the conflict in Ukraine, among other actions “call into question its eligibility for trade benefits under AGOA.”
They also expressed frustration about the upcoming BRICS summit in Johannesburg this summer, accusing the South African government of facilitating the inclusion of Russian President Vladimir Putin at the event despite an active arrest warrant issued for Russia's head of state by the International Criminal Court.
South Africa’s foreign ministry spokesman, Clayson Monyela, said that neither the State Department nor the White House has made any decision to relocate the AGOA forum out of his country.
He added that President Cyril Ramaphosa’s special envoys traveled to the US to clarify South Africa’s non-aligned stance on the Russia-Ukraine conflict to key stakeholders and decision makers, while the country’s diplomats in Washington remain actively involved in such discussions.
“South Africa enjoys the support of the US government, the Africa Group & Business in hosting the AGOA Forum which is planned for November. The relations between South Africa & the United States of America is mutually beneficial...even in the context of AGOA,” Monyela said in a tweet on Tuesday.