South Africa will host a U.S.-Africa trade summit in November despite an earlier call by U.S. lawmakers for the event to be moved over what they said was the country’s deepening military relationship with Russia. South Africa’s economic hub, Johannesburg, will host the U.S.-sub-Saharan Africa Trade and Economic Cooperation Forum from Nov. 2 to 4, U.S. and South African officials said in a joint statement on Wednesday.
The meeting will discuss the future of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), Washington’s flagship trade programme for the continent, which grants tariff-free access to the U.S. market and is due to expire on Sept. 30, 2025. “As President Biden has said, the future is Africa,” United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai said in the statement. Tai said she looked forward to visiting South Africa to “discuss opportunities to make AGOA more transformative”.
In the wake of Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, U.S. and European officials have attempted to rally opposition to Moscow’s actions among African governments. Most African states, however, have shied away from taking sides. Despite Pretoria’s declared neutrality, perceived close ties between Russia and South Africa, an important U.S. trading partner in Africa, have ruffled feathers in Washington.
In a June letter, leading members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate asked the Biden administration to choose another location for the U.S.-Africa trade meeting. Pointing to South Africa’s joint naval operations with China and Russia in February, and plans to host Russian President Vladimir Putin at a BRICS bloc summit, they also suggested South Africa’s trade benefits under AGOA could be revoked.
The lawmakers appeared to back up an explosive accusation by the U.S. ambassador to South Africa that a Russian vessel under sanctions collected weapons at a South African naval base last year. In the end, Putin, who is wanted under an International Criminal Court warrant on charges of war crimes in Ukraine, did not travel to the September BRICS summit. A South African investigation into the purported arms delivery stated that the accusation was unfounded.
In Wednesday’s statement, Ebrahim Patel, South Africa’s trade minister, attempted to turn the page on the incident, calling for AGOA to be extended.
“An extension of AGOA beyond 2025 will promote inward investment in Africa and provide benefits to both the United States and African countries,” he said. (Reuters)