SAME SAME BUT DIFFERENT
DA and ANC on same page about Agoa, but Steenhuisen touts ‘ANC is not South Africa’ to US
South African politicians from the ANC and DA have made their way to Washington to advocate for SA's participation in the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act despite their disagreements over Russia's war against Ukraine.
The ANC government and the opposition Democratic Alliance have vehemently disagreed with each other over Russia’s war against Ukraine. But they found themselves in Washington over the last few days both urging the US not to drop South Africa from the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa).
President Cyril Ramaphosa has sent a delegation under his national security adviser Sydney Mufamadi to lobby administration officials and congressional leaders amid rising concerns about Pretoria’s deteriorating relations with Washington. This over what the US and other Western governments see as the ANC government’s increasingly friendly relations with Moscow.
The immediate concern in Pretoria is that the US could end or reduce SA’s participation in Agoa, which gives duty and quota-free access for most South African exports to the US.
By contrast with the ANC, the DA has strongly supported Ukraine in its war against Russia. Last week, Western Cape Premier Alan Winde tweeted that if Russian president Vladimir Putin set foot in the Western Cape, he would order provincial police to arrest him.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Ramaphosa appoints inter-ministerial committee on SA’s ICC stance, Winde threat of Putin arrest dismissed
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued a warrant for Putin’s arrest for the alleged war crime of abducting Ukrainian children and deporting them to Russia. The ICC warrant has created a dilemma for the South African government which has invited Putin to visit South Africa in August to attend the annual summit of BRICS — the Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa forum.
US Senator Jim Risch, the leading Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee tweeted in response to Winde that; “It’s good to see some leaders in #SouthAfrica speaking openly & without ambiguity about #Putin‘s visit to their country. This kind of honest gov’t leadership is desperately needed to build the US-South Africa relationship.”
Risch’s tweet gave an indication of the difficulty that Mufamadi’s delegation must be facing in trying to justify his government’s Russia policy to the American government.
DA leader John Steenhuisen has also just been in Washington as the head of a party lobbying the US government, congress and the establishment and his visit partly overlapped with Mufamadi’s. Steenhuisen told Daily Maverick that he found that South Africa’s position on Russia — including its recent joint military exercise with Russia and China and the secretive visit to Simon’s Town last year of the Russian cargo ship Lady R – had “particularly animated their lawmakers.”
Read more in Daily Maverick: Cloak and dagger — the infamous nights Simon’s Town became Vladimir Putin’s town
But Steenhuisen said his delegation — which also comprised opposition chief whip Siviwe Gwarube and Dr Dion George, shadow minister of finance — had told the Americans that “the ANC is not South Africa”, that there were prospects for a new government next year and that some areas where the DA already governed, such as Tshwane, where automakers were located and the Western Cape which exported large quantities of agricultural exports to the US, were dependent on Agoa.
“It was very, very interesting to be over there and to hear from the horse’s mouth about the sentiment there and how South Africa has got itself into a proper mess.”
‘ANC is not South Africa’
Steenhuisen said he found that both the US Senate and House of Representatives had expressed great concern about South Africa’s position on Russia — particularly the joint military exercise SA had conducted with Russia and China in February and the earlier secret visit to Simon’s Town harbour by the Russian cargo ship Lady R when it loaded and/or loaded cargo, suspected to be weapons, at night.
“It’s a very, very serious problem South Africa has in having to try to explain what’s going on because there’s big pressure from the lawmakers to make some form of statement about South Africa.”
Steenhuisen said his delegation had given frank assessments of South Africa’s Russia stance.
“But the point we were trying to make with them is that the ANC is not South Africa. That we’ve got prospects for a new government next year. And it’s obviously in our interests for Agoa to remain. “And particularly in areas where we govern – Tshwane where the motor manufacturers are and the Western Cape where a large part of the economy is reliant on agricultural products. And where Agoa benefits us.
“So the message we were giving them is be careful who you’re punishing because by dropping Agoa you could end up hurting the opposition as well.”
Steenhuisen said his delegation had set out clearly the DA’s stance, including his visit to Ukraine last year, its opposition to the docking of Russian oligarch yachts in Cape Town and its opposition to Putin visiting South Africa.
“So that they don’t see South Africa as being the ANC, that there is a far more nuanced position here. And that by simply pulling the rug out and stopping Agoa would harm our prospects as well.”
Steenhuisen said the Americans had heard his delegation’s case but he could not say if they all agreed. The DA delegation had also indicated that if it came into government after the 2024 elections in some form, “we would want to negotiate something broader than Agoa, something more permanent, rather than something that has to be renewed.”
Potential new deal projected
Agoa is a non-reciprocal trade agreement which gives qualified African countries duty and quota-free access to the US market without giving the US equivalent access to African markets. But that access can be terminated at any time by the US. In 2015 South Africa was provisionally suspended from some Agoa benefits because it raised tariffs on US meat imports.
So Steenhuisen said the DA, if it entered national government, would seek a conventional reciprocal free trade agreement with the US. Or at least a Strategic Trade and Investment Package (Stip). He noted that that was the sort of agreement which Kenya was now negotiating with the US.
Steenhuisen said his second big takeaway from his visit was that “South Africa’s lunch is being eaten by Kenya and Zambia. They’re very, very active on the Hill (Congress). We were trailing behind a lot of delegations from those two countries who have clearly been working for some time now in the US on opinion formers and South Africa’s presence is virtually nil. Which is very concerning.”
He said Kenya in particular was the “talk of the town.” DM