July 15, 2024

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa will host a meeting in November of nations participating in the U.S. Africa Growth and Opportunity Act despite earlier calls to exclude the country from the forum due to its ties to Russia and the docking of a sanctioned Russian vessel near Cape Town last year.

AGOA is U.S. legislation that allows sub-Saharan African countries duty-free access to the U.S. market provided they meet certain conditions, including that they “must eliminate barriers to U.S. trade and investment, enact policies to reduce poverty, combat corruption, and protect human rights.”

Earlier this year, some American lawmakers from both the Republican and Democratic parties urged Secretary of State Antony Blinken to move the meeting of the forum elsewhere following allegations that South Africa supplied arms to Russia for its war in Ukraine.

They said moving the meeting to a different country would send a message that the United States would not accept its trading partners aiding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and questioned South Africa’s eligibility to receive trade benefits from AGOA.

They also cited South Africa’s hosting of military drills with Russia and China earlier this year. South Africa has also been criticized for not publicly opposing Russia’s war against Ukraine.

The U.S. and South Africa announced in a joint statement that the forum will be held in Johannesburg, indicating a mending of relations following months of diplomatic tensions.

“I look forward to visiting South Africa in November to discuss our shared priorities, reaffirm the Administration’s commitment to the continent, and discuss opportunities to make AGOA more transformative as we deepen our trade and investment relations with the sub-Saharan African countries,” U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said.

South Africa is one of the biggest beneficiaries of AGOA, with exports to the U.S. through the act estimated at $3 billion in 2022.

The spokesperson for South Africa’s Foreign Ministry, Clayson Monyela, lauded the announcement, describing it as a “victory for South African diplomacy.”

“Some lobbied for the Forum to be moved from SA and for South Africa to be kicked out of AGOA. Some even said we’d be punished with sanctions. Our diplomacy and advocacy machinery kicked in and prevailed,” Monyela said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

A panel appointed by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to investigate allegations that South Africa loaded arms destined for Russia onto the vessel Russian Lady R found there was no evidence to support the claim, which was made by the U.S. ambassador to South Africa, Ruben Brigety.

It also found that South Africa was not aware that the ship transporting military equipment ordered by the South African National Defense Force from the United Arab Emirates was a sanctioned Russian vessel.

Leaders from various countries in sub-Saharan Africa and organizations are expected to attend the forum on Nov. 2-4.

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