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8 Nov, 2023 11:41

US senator seeks to end trade privileges for South Africa

Pretoria’s duty-free access to the American market is under threat due to ties with Russia, Iran and Palestine
US senator seeks to end trade privileges for South Africa

A US lawmaker has called for an immediate review of South Africa's eligibility for a scheme allowing duty-free exports to the American market, the African Press Agency reported on Tuesday.

The request, outlined in a draft document on renewing the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), was sponsored by Chris Coons, a Democratic member of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and released for discussion on Monday. It urges US Trade Representative Katherine Tai to “undertake an immediate out-of-cycle review of South Africa,” according to the agency.

The bill reportedly did not give reasons for potentially shutting Pretoria out of the trade program, through which 35 African countries have duty-free access to the US market for more than 1,800 products. To keep participating, the nations have to pass an annual assessment on trade and investment policies, governance, labor and human rights.

South Africa has been a member of AGOA since its launch in 2000 and has been the biggest beneficiary, with the US ranking as the second-largest destination for Pretoria’s exports globally after China in 2021.

However, the African nation’s role in the scheme has come under scrutiny since the start of the Ukraine conflict, due to its ties with Moscow. Previously, a group of US lawmakers claimed that South Africa had violated the eligibility criteria, and demanded that the 20th AGOA forum, which was recently held in Johannesburg, be moved to another country.

Earlier this month, US Senator Jim Risch wrote to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and to Katherine Tai, expressing disappointment over the White House's decision to retain Pretoria’s full eligibility for the trade deal in 2024, despite its “continued actions that subvert US national security and foreign policy interests.

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,” Risch wrote.

Last week, US President Joe Biden announced the expulsion of Uganda, the Central African Republic, Gabon, and Niger from AGOA, citing “gross violations” of participation conditions. The four African countries will lose their beneficiary status in January 2024.

The AGOA program is set to expire in September 2025, but separate bills introduced by US senators are seeking an extension beyond the usual 10-year period. While Democratic Senator Coons’ bill calls for a 16-year extension, the agreement could be prolonged by 20 years through September 2045 if the US Congress endorses a bill introduced by Louisiana Senator John Kennedy.

Sponsors of both bills believe extending the deal would help strengthen Washington’s influence in Africa.