International relations

Obama visit to highlight SA, US ties

18 June 2013

South Africa's growing importance in regional and international affairs as well as its relations with the United States will come under the spotlight when US President Barack Obama visits the country later this month.

Obama is scheduled to make his first trip to South Africa as US president when he and his wife Michelle travel to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania from 26 June to 3 July.

"For the ordinary South African, this [visit] should be seen as some kind of a positive reaction from the Americans, that America recognises that there is no way that it can ignore SA and in his tour of the continent, the head of international politics in the political science department at Unisa, Dr Thabisi Hoeane, said on Friday.

With about 600 US companies operating in South Africa, the US "remains an important trade, investment, tourism and technology partner," Minister in the Presidency for Performance Monitoring and Evaluation Collins Chabane told journalists in Pretoria on Thursday.

According to a statement issued by the White House press secretary, Obama's trip "will reinforce the importance that the United States places on our deep and growing ties with countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including through expanding economic growth, investment, and trade, strengthening democratic institutions, and investing in the next generation of African leaders".

Hoeane said that Obama and South African President Jacob Zuma would have "a whole range of critical issues" to discuss, including the view "that in recent years there's been a frosty relationship between the two countries.

"We cannot afford to have a negative relationship with that country given its dominance within the world," Hoeane said. "My view would be that, yes, there have been some differences here and there, but it has always been in South Africa's interest to have good relations with that country."

The US is one of South Africa's key trading partners, and the bilateral trade relationship has maintained a consistent pattern of expansion since 1994.

Hoeane said the extension of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), which allows sub-Saharan countries to ship their goods to the United States duty- and quota-free, was also likely to form part of the discussions between Obama and Zuma.

In August, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies said SA would like an extension of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) for a reasonable period beyond its 2015 expiry, and more or less in its current form.

Although some US lawmakers have questioned South Africa's inclusion in Agoa along with relatively poorer countries on the continent, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while visiting SA in August, said: "We want to see South Africa included in the new extension, and we going to do our best to make sure that it is done."

Another topic of discussion might be the controversial decision by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to hold general elections on 31 July.

"Zimbabwe might be discussed because it's one of the critical political issues in southern Africa. Given South Africa's prominent role in the affairs of that country and that elections are coming, I'm sure there’s going to be a lot of exchanging of views on what is happening there," Hoeane said.



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