South Africa hosts US-Africa trade summit after diplomatic tensions

South Africa hosts US-Africa trade summit after diplomatic tensions

A summit on trade relations between Africa and the United States got under way in South Africa on Thursday, as Pretoria and Washington mend relations after a spat over accusations that the former has cozied up to Russia.


Ministers from about 40 sub-Saharan African countries benefiting from the African Growth and Opportunity Act, or AGOA, are to hold talks with US envoys for three days in Johannesburg.

The choice of South Africa as host for the annual summit was "a sign of our commitment to our bilateral relationship", Joy Basu, US deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs told AFP.

Approved by the US Congress in 2000, AGOA is the cornerstone of US economic and trade policy on the continent.

The pact offers duty-free access into the world's largest economy for countries that meet democratic criteria assessed on a yearly basis.

It ends in 2025, and with little plan yet for any successor, talks are expected to revolve around a possible extension.

Relations between Washington and Pretoria have been strained by the war in Ukraine, amid accusations that South Africa, which has said it wants to stay neutral, has drifted closer to Russia.

In an unusually strong statement in May, the US ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigety, alleged that a Russian freighter loaded up weapons and ammunition on a stop at a Cape Town naval base.

A group of US lawmakers later called for the country to be kicked out of AGOA in response.

An independent panel appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa to investigate the matter has since concluded that there was no evidence to suggest weapons were loaded onto the ship.

"We really appreciated the Ramaphosa's administration investigations into the concerns that were raised," said Basu.

"South Africa is fully eligible to maintain its AGOA benefits".

Trade under the pact accounts for 21 percent of South Africa's annual exports to the United States, which range from automotive products to raw materials and in 2022 were worth about $3 billion.

"AGOA has been pivotal in strengthening economic ties and promoting growth and development across the African continent," said the South African presidency.

Earlier this week, the United States said it was cutting the Central African Republic, Gabon, Niger and Uganda from the trade pact from January 2024 over concerns about coups, democracy and human rights.

Mauritania was meanwhile being reinstated to the pact after it was suspended in 2019 due to concerns over workers' rights.

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