A letter obtained by The New York Times states that South Africa’s government has deepened its relationship with Russia over the past year despite formally taking a neutral stance on Putin’s invasion of Ukraine – making it necessary for the United States to take action.
According to the publication, both Democratic and Republican representatives in Washington have said that it is time South Africa faces consequences for its foreign policies. This follows the White House taking an extended ‘wait-and-see’ approach.
The letter, dated 9 June, written by the Congress of the United States addressed to the US Department of State Anthony Blinken, the National Security Advisor Jacob Sullivan and the Ambassador of US Trade Katherine Tai, said that lawmakers are seriously concerned that hosting the 2023 AGOA Forum in South Africa would serve as an implicit endorsement of South Africa’s damaging support for Russia’s invasion and possible violation of US sanctions laws.
It highlighted the recent accusations that South Africa had supplied Russia with arms on the ‘Lady R’ vessel and cited the recent joint military exercises between Russia, China and South Africa as evidence for the African country’s close ties with Putin.
“Further, these actions by South Africa call into question its eligibility for trade benefits under AGOA due to the statutory requirement that beneficiary countries do not engage in activities that undermine United States national security or foreign policy interests,” stated the letter.
“While we understand that the AGOA eligibility review process for 2024 is underway and that decisions have not yet been made, we question whether a country in danger of losing AGOA benefits should have the privilege of hosting the 2023 AGOA Forum.”
“Our concerns are shared by many South African citizens and businesses, who are increasingly vocal about deteriorating conditions in the country.”
The letter added that if South Africa continues to demonstrate support for Russia and its unlawful invasion of Ukraine, then hosting the forum in another country in Sub-Saharan Africa would send a clear and important message of the US’s unshaken alliance with Ukraine – and that it will not accept trading partners provisions to aid Russia.
AGOA refers to the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which grants duty-free treatment to goods in certain sub-Saharan African countries, including South Africa. Ultimately, the agreement offers duty-free access to the U.S. market for thousands of goods.
Losing AGOA benefits could lead to a loss in foreign trade advantages for South Africa. Under the Act, the president is granted the power to add or remove countries from AGOA, a process that is administered through the Office of the US Trade Representative.
The letter was signed off by Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as well as Senator Jim Risch, the leading Republican on the committee. Additionally, it was endorsed by the primary Republican and Democratic officials on the House’s foreign affairs committee.
Domestically, the ANC-led government has attempted to cool concern over international backlash to its stance on the war.
South Africa has denied supplying Russia with weapons and is currently running an independent investigation into the allegations. The country has also insisted that it remains neutral on the Russia-Ukraine war.
Addressing the media in Pretoria on Monday, 12 June, Vincent Magwenya, spokesperson for the presidency, said that suggestions that the country will be hit with international sanctions due to its non-aligned stances are reckless and damaging to its economy.
“There is no evidence whatsoever to point to any emergence of sanctions from any country or even the United Nations Security Council, which is the only authority to institute global sanctions.
“There is no such talk. As a government, we’ve had several bilateral discussions with the US government, and there has been no suggestion that the US will consider applying sanctions to South Africa,” Magwenya said.
Economists and researchers alike have raised alarm over the government’s close ties with Russia. Ndivhuho Netshitenzhe, an economist at Stanlib Asset Management, said that if geopolitical tensions were to escalate against the West – the country could be at risk of losing R612.7 billion in export revenue.
South Africa is largely reliant on exports to both the E.U. and the U.S. – making up a total of 30.4% of all exports – compared to Russia’s 0/23%.
See the full letter from foreign affairs and relations heavyweights below: