It was uncomfortable today to see SA’s Trade and Industry (dti) Minister Rob Davies on the back foot as he briefed the media on the worrying spat with the US.
It is all about a trade concession from the US, known by the initials AGOA, which offers qualifying African countries a degree of duty-free access to the American market.
AGOA helps to explain some of the investment in the local vehicle industry, as cars from German manufacturers can win AGOA benefits, if they are manufactured in SA. Indeed, the vehicle sector is reported to be the biggest beneficiary of AGOA.
The latest spat, as so often in trade disputes, centres on Agriculture – and controls on US exports of poultry and some other meats by SA.
If Davies is to be believed, veterinary experts have been working away on this, and are close to tying up a pact.
However, he admitted it was serious when President Obama raised the issue, as he did yesterday, giving a 60 day deadline for a settlement. If not, the Agricultural aspects of AGOA from which SA benefits will be suspended.
Bad news for our wine producers, who would love to sell more in the US, as well as for others such as the growers of macadamia nuts (don’t tell the Aussies).
Reading some of the comments on the spat (and questions in the media conference also addressed this theme) is there a bigger picture issue?
The ANC was a revolutionary movement, and the current ANC government is very good at being nice to its unpleasant anti-Western mates, while voicing an element of hostility to its big trade partners in the West.
Davies, of course, was not going to admit anything of the sort, but AGOA is a concession and not an agreement, and the American politicians who are being aggressively lobbied by their farming interests have none of the respect for Zuma they once had for Mandela, and would probably not get very far if they were asked to name Zuma’s merry band of wives.
Maybe this latest chicken roasting of South Africa is the White House’s way of warning SA that friendship is a two-way street.
Zuma might reflect on this the next time he is having a pally chat with the leader of Hamas. We don’t want to move from AGOA to AGONE.
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