Top US Legislators Demand Penalties For South Africa For Maintaining Ties With Russia
14:30 13.06.2023 (Updated: 15:41 13.06.2023)
In May this year, Fikile Mbalula, secretary-general of South Africa's governing party, the African National Congress, criticized the West for hypocritical demanding that his country arrest Russian President Vladimir Putin when he arrives for the BRICS summit in August, noting that no one has yet been arrested for the Iraq invasion.
A group of US congressmen from both US major parties (the Democrats and the Republicans), have petitioned the White House to shift this year's meeting for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) elsewhere, claiming that South Africa should lose its AGOA status.
A quarter of the exports African nations send to the US – which is South Africa's second-largest trade partner after China - are allowed duty-free entry under AGOA.
The group of legislators, including Republican Michael McCaul – head of the US House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs Committee – and Democrat Senator Chris Coons, chairman of the Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, accuse South Africa of strengthening its military ties with Russia over the past 12 months.
"[We] question whether a country in danger of losing AGOA benefits should have the privilege of hosting the 2023 AGOA Forum," the lawmakers said in a letter dated 9 June and submitted to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Trade Representative Katherine Tai, and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.
Furthermore, the group referred to the incident that took place on 11 May this year, when Reuben Brigety, the US ambassador to South Africa, said that the Russian ship Lady R had received weapons from the South African Simon's Town Naval Base in December 2022.
The South African defense ministry has denied
the claim, and President Cyril Ramaphosa has ordered a separate inquiry into it.
The US politicians also noted that South Africa conducted joint military drills with China and Russia in February, and in April, South Africa gave permission for a Russian military cargo jet that was subject to US sanctions to land at a South African air force facility.
In addition, South Africa, which will host the BRICS Summit, is "working to facilitate
" Vladimir Putin's attendance. An order for Putin's arrest has been issued by the International Criminal Court in connection with allegations of the forcible removal of minors from Ukraine to Russia. Russia has said the claims are false and stressed that it is not party to the ICC. However, South Africa is and would therefore be expected to detain the Russian President upon his arrival.
"These actions by South Africa call into question its eligibility for trade benefits under AGOA because of the statutory requirement that beneficiary countries not engage in activities that undermine United States national security or foreign policy interests," the US lawmakers said.
The group of lawmakers went on to say that it was extremely worried that having the AGOA Forum in South Africa in 2023 would amount to that country's "implicit endorsement" of Russia's actions in Ukraine and would even be a breach of US sanctions legislation.
Later, Clayson Monyela, official representative of South Africa's foreign ministry, commented on the initiative, saying that the "letter by the four US Congress members to Secretary Blinken is noted".
He underlined that President Cyril Ramaphosa's "special envoys recently visited the US to meet and explain South Africa's active non-aligned position on the Russia/Ukraine conflict to key stakeholders and decision makers. Our diplomats in Washington continue to engage on these matters."
For eligible Sub-Saharan African (SSA) nations, the AGOA considerably improves market access to the US. An array of requirements outlined in the AGOA Act must be met to qualify for AGOA privileges.
AGOA provides duty-free access to the American trade market to about 30 African countries. South Africa is the largest beneficiary of the program, having exported about $3Bln of goods to the United States through AGOA last year.
Recently, the World Bank noted that the possibility of abrupt suspension from the program makes
participating in AGOA risky for African countries.