South Africa should be truly non-aligned and stop risking its vital trade ties with the West

South Africa can count itself extremely fortunate to have been provisionally accepted into the list of 32 African countries that will make up the far-reaching African Growth & Opportunity Act (AGOA). The AGOA summit in Johannesburg last year was a key turning point for a continent in dire need of preferential trade agreements. It is vital that the trade program is extended for another 10 years – and everything indicates that this will be the case.

AGOA’s primary goal has always been to promote economic growth and trade in Africa by rewarding good governance with duty-free access to American markets. It is precisely for this reason that Uganda, Gabon, Niger and the Central African Republic (CAR) were excluded from last year’s summit by US President Joe Biden.

However, the influential US Senator Chris Coons, who introduced a bill to extend AGOA beyond the previous 10-year extension to 16 years, wanted to subject South Africa’s membership to an out-of-cycle review and even possibly revoke it due to the situation in the country. growing courtship of administrations and regimes hostile to the United States

South Africa has been particularly steadfast in its unwavering support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and subsequent war, not to mention a regime that openly sponsors terrorism, Iran. This position was directly at odds with the rest of the world, particularly in the US axis of influence.

South Africa’s most recent stance, openly hostile to Israel and very sympathetic to Hamas, culminating in taking the State of Israel to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), could well have led to South Africa being punished and excluded from AGOA – a prospect that still looms over US-SA relations.

If that had happened, it would have been a profound penalty, because South Africa was the largest beneficiary of the trade deal, amounting to $3 billion last year alone.

AGOA significantly tilts the trade balance in Africa’s favor. In 2022, the United States exported $30 billion in trade to Africa, up from $6 billion when AGOA first went into effect in 2000, but also imported $42 billion from continent. This is a huge figure, and it becomes even starker when compared to African countries’ trade balances with everyone else, including China (Africa’s largest trading partner outside the United States) and Russia (which does not have a trade balance worthy of this value). name, especially not with South Africa).

Africa has much to offer the world, but it is not a single country. There are 54 constituent countries that make up the continent and each of them must operate with due diligence both towards the needs and aspirations of their citizens and with a concomitant coherence in their foreign policy. It is not enough to simply proclaim yourself non-aligned if the actions of a sovereign country conflict with its claims.

There is no doubt that African countries have fought for decades, first to shed the legacy of colonialism and then to fight new battles against neocolonialism in the form of asymmetric economic warfare, exploitative extractive trade, and emasculating aid in return. There is no doubt that Africa has a lot to offer the rest of the world. The continent is home to resources critical to the global green industrial revolution, particularly the minerals that power electric vehicles (EVs). And the West has a critical shortage of lithium, tin and tungsten, unlike China.

Both the continent and the global order have evolved significantly since the implementation of AGOA nearly a quarter of a century ago. We saw this during the last BRICS+ summit, also held in Johannesburg last year. There has been much talk about a new world of de-dollarization and the expansion of the bloc with six more members in Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

I said at the time that Africa should be careful not to get caught up in a battle of polarities: the binary of the West versus the rest. China has done a lot to increase its trade with Africa. Indeed, China’s cumulative trade bill of $270 billion eclipses the United States’ $80 billion. But Africa would be extremely foolish to ignore the strides President Biden’s administration has made, reinvigorating the country’s focus on Africa with more than 800 reciprocal agreements in 47 countries. In December 2022, Biden’s USA Africa Summit saw the announcement of more than $15 billion in deals between more than 300 US and African companies. In total, the United States has allocated $55 billion for shared priorities with the continent through 2025.

African countries would be foolish to put all this at risk by openly siding with one side, but claiming neutrality, all while expecting the other side to continue to reach out. AGOA is a very serious passport to the US market, building on an existing legacy of trade ties with the United States. It is certainly as important as China’s Belt and Road initiative and is worth immeasurably more than any past, present or future trade opportunity with Russia. and Iran.

The African Youth Survey, which measures the pulse of the continent’s next generation of leaders, is unequivocal: 37% of young Africans see President Biden as the world leader with the most important role in Africa, well ahead of President Xi Jinping (13 %) and Vladimir Putin (whose stature was in the single digits even before he invaded Ukraine).

Yet, South Africa has acted with an arrogant sense of impunity that is not only insensitive to global realities, but also oblivious to the needs of its citizens. African leaders must put their countries first, not their parties or individual interests. Trade, not aid, is the way to unlock the untapped potential of this continent and herald the much-vaunted African Century. President Biden’s New Deal for Africa is a key pillar.

Being truly non-aligned means you can benefit from relationships around the world and have the right to sit at any table as a trusted partner.

Trade deals should not be handouts. They must entail mutual benefits for all parties and entail conditions for all parties. The original request in Senator Coons’ bill that South Africa be subject to an out-of-cycle review of its accession to this agreement was neither unfair nor unreasonable. But it was also proof that the days of acting with impunity, without thinking about the consequences, are over.

South Africa should have the humility to recognize this and act accordingly. I can only hope for the sake of my country and my continent that the South African government can do all this and become the African leader we all need.

Ivor Ichikowitz is an industrialist and philanthropist. He is president of the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, one of the main African foundations that supports the development of the African continent and its population. He has been involved in a support role with the African Peace Initiative in Ukraine and Russia.

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