Amid signs that the Doha global trade negotiations round might be delayed, trade and industry minister Rob Davies has announced he wants the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) extended – a position the US is likely to look on with some caution. Davies, perhaps South Africa’s most free trade-hostile minister, inherits a department from the Mbeki administration which was already headed fast in a free trade-resistant direction. Substantial efforts to form a US-SA Customs Union free trade agreement broke down in 2006. In 2008, the extension of SA’s existing agreement with the EU, supposed to be broadened into an SA Development Community agreement broke down too, with some SADC countries actually siding with the EU against SA’s opposition to the agreement. In Davies’ term, the crisis intensified when several members of SADC, including all members of the SA Customs Union (SA, Lesotho, Botswana and Namibia) decided to go ahead and sign the interim economic partnership agreement. Davies decided to set up trade restrictions against its own SACU partners, a move that could precipitate a break-up of the century-old organisation – one of the world’s longest lasting. Now Davies wants Agoa extended for a longer period, indefinitely possibly, to allow for investment in capacity building that would let more countries and industries take advantage of the benefits of the Act. The US has undertaken to keep an open mind.
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