Foreign Relations

Ramaphosa leads high-powered delegation to the UN – to sell SA

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses members of the media at the Union Buildings, on measures agreed upon by Cabinet to reignite growth, stimulate economic recovery and secure confidence in sectors affected by regulatory uncertainty and inconsistency, in Pretoria, South Africa, 21 September 2018. Photo: GCIS

President Cyril Ramaphosa is leading a large government mission to sell his reforms and the country to the world at the United Nations this week.

New York: Ramaphosa and 10 Cabinet ministers will rub shoulders with fellow world leaders – including US President Donald Trump – and meet potential investors and important opinion makers as he attends the high-level debate of the 73rd UN General Assembly.

It will be his first visit to the US as president. He is clearly expecting lots of hard questions on his controversial land reform plans from fellow world leaders, investors, foreign policy analysts and journalists. His office said on Sunday Ramaphosa “will outline South Africa’s domestic and foreign policy goals and priorities. These include the country’s land reform programme aimed at fostering greater stability, inclusiveness and transformation within the South African economy”.

He and his ministers arrived here on Sunday for a tight schedule of meetings over the next few days.

One of those was supposed to be the late Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa who was due to address the One Planet climate change and environment conference hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron. Molewa died on Saturday after a short illness. Officials said probably one of the other ministers accompanying Ramaphosa would take Molewa’s place at the meeting.

This will be a special General Assembly meeting for South Africa as Monday will be devoted to the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit which the UN will hold in the General Assembly Hall, to honour the centenary of Mandela’s birth.

After meeting UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Ramaphosa will unveil a 1.9-metre high statue of Mandela which has been erected in the General Assembly Hall, before addressing the peace summit.

The summit will be addressed by heads of state and other representatives of at least 158 countries, Mxolisi Nkosi, deputy director general of multilateral affairs in the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, told journalists here on Sunday. The summit is expected to adopt a declaration committing all UN members to redouble their peace efforts and declaring the years 2019 to 2028 as the Nelson Mandela Decade of Peace.

Mandela’s widow Graca Machel, his two daughters and other members of his family are also expected to attend.

Ramaphosa will then address the influential Council on Foreign Relations on “Foreign Policy Choices Facing South Africa”. This should throw light on Ramaphosa’s foreign policy priorities which he has not fully spelt out before.

Apart from the ANC’s decision to back a constitutional amendment to allow land expropriation without compensation, Ramaphosa is likely to get questions on other issues such as whether his government intends to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC). Though the Zuma administration tabled legislation in Parliament in December 2017 to withdraw SA from the ICC, International Relations Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said in July that the government was now reconsidering the decision.

Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Lindiwe Sisulu; Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies; Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula; Minister of Finance Nhlanhla Nene; Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi, Minister of Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa; Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services Siyabonga Cwele; Minister of Higher Education Naledi Pandor, Minister of State Security Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba and Minister of Water and Sanitation Gugile Nkwinti are with Ramaphosa in New York.

On Monday Nene will participate in a high-level meeting on financing the African Union’s ambitious Agenda 2063 to make the continent peaceful and prosperous by that date.

Ramaphosa will have a chance to bury the hatchet with Trump as he will attend a reception which Trump will host on Monday evening for leaders attending the UN General Assembly.

Relations between the two leaders are rather strained after Trump tweeted in August that he had asked State Secretary Mike Pompeo to probe “land and farm seizures and the large-scale killing of farmers”.

Ramaphosa hit back with an angry rebuke of Trump, essentially telling him to mind his own business.

The US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley told AFP that Trump will tell the UN the US will be generous in its aid – but “just to those who share our values and want to work with us; not those who say they hate us”.

Earlier in 2018, Haley hinted that the US could withdraw aid from countries which vote against it at the UN. She listed SA among 10 countries which most often voted against the US.

Though Ramaphosa and Trump might meet casually at Trump’s reception on Monday evening, Nkosi said no formal meeting between them had been arranged. But Sisulu would meet Pompeo on Friday to discuss the land issue.

On Tuesday Ramaphosa will address the first day of the High-Level opening of the UN General Assembly debate which will also be addressed by Trump among other world leaders that day.

Nkosi said the debate was taking place against the background of increased global insecurity, including conflicts in the Middle East, and increased threats to the multilateral system.

More states – he did not mention the US by name – were withdrawing from global compacts such as the Paris climate agreement and the JCPOA for Iran to suspend its suspected nuclear weapons programme.

Ramaphosa will also meet foreign media on Tuesday.

On Wednesday Ramaphosa will largely focus on economic issues. He and Davies will address CEOs of top US corporations, including potential investor and other important players at the Bloomberg Business Forum. He will meet more CEOs twice more that day.

His office said he would meet with CEOs of major global companies as part of the drive to attract foreign direct investment in order to ramp up the South African economy. This would form part of the build-up to South Africa’s International Investment Conference which will take place on 26 and 27 October with a focus on bringing investment of $100-billion into the South African economy over the next five years.”

Lerato Mataboge, deputy director general of the Department of Trade and Industry, said the essential message of Ramaphosa’s economic meetings on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly would be on how to restore credibility to the global trading system which was under threat, with the outbreak of trade wars. They would also aim to boost South Africa’s economy, including through investment.

She said Ramaphosa has already begun this economic engagement in a meeting on Sunday with Ramaphosa is also meeting US Democratic Senator Chris Coons, “a friend of South Africa. The discussion had focused on the future of South Africa in the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) which gives duty-free access to the US market for most SA exports.

Mataboge said Ramaphosa and Coons did not get into the nitty-gritty of the current moves by the SA poultry industry to terminate the hard-won agreement of 2016 to give US poultry producers a quota of some 65,000 tons of poultry imports into SA every year in exchange for SA continuing to enjoy access to the US market under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act.

The SA chicken producers argue that Trump’s imposition of 10% tariffs on some SA aluminium imports in violation of AGOA has effectively cancelled the 2016 poultry deal. Coons represents the poultry state of Delaware and so has a close interest in the issue.

Ramaphosa will also participate in a high-level meeting at the UN seeking better ways to fight TB which is highly aggravated in SA because of the high incidence of HIV positive citizens.

Ramaphosa has several one-on-one meetings lined up with other leaders, Diko said, including Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Cuba’s new President Miguel Diaz-Canel, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and UN Women Director Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka, former SA vice-president. Other one-on-one meetings for Ramaphosa could still be set up.

Ramaphosa’s Cabinet has several other meetings. Sisulu will attend several foreign policy meetings of her counterparts, including those of the Non-Aligned Movement, Group of 77 developing countries, the Commonwealth, IBSA (the India, Brazil and SA Forum) and BRICS Forum (comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa)

Defence Minister Mapisa-Nqakula is scheduled to attend an important meeting with her counterparts from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the UN which is expected to focus on the future of the UN’s Force Intervention Brigade.

It is fighting armed rebel groups in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The UN is planning to diminish the force to cut costs. Recently Mapisa-Nqakula warned this could endanger the lives of the South African, Tanzanian and Malawian troops which comprise the force. DM


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