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Will hypocritical US threats hinder SA trade

by Luqmaan Rawat
US Congress look set on teaching SA a lesson for siding with humanity

South Africa – The global geopolitical landscape is undergoing significant shifts, with major powers vying for influence and manoeuvring to secure their interests. South Africa, as a prominent middle-income country, finds itself facing threats from the US due to its relationships with nations like Russia, Iran, and Palestine. 

The post-Covid world has been marked by more conflicts and tensions among major powers, putting countries like South Africa in a challenging position. Senator Chris Coons of the US Democratic Party, in an effort to steer South Africa in a certain political way, has introduced a Bill which seeks to extend the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) for 16 years; however, it also raises the possibility of South Africa being removed from the preferential trade program. This could see South Africa be kicked out of a program which has considerable benefits to South African exporters to the US of cars, fruits and wine, in particular. Members of Congress, including Coons, have raised concerns about South Africa’s eligibility due to its close relationship with Russia. This connection was seen as a potential threat to US national security and foreign policy interests, thereby violating an AGOA condition.

Senator Jim Risch, a prominent Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, criticised the Biden administration for permitting South Africa to host the Agoa Forum and maintaining its status as an Agoa beneficiary. He conveyed his concerns in a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Fortunately, although South Africa is a middle-income country, it has a democratic government and it finds itself aligned with various other nations and trade unions which gives it “much more space to be more independent from these kinds of threats”, said Ashraf Patel, Research Associate at Institute For Global Dialogue.


Economic realities and global perception

Although the United States views itself as a dominant force, the ascent of China and economic challenges within the US have shifted the power dynamics. South Africa’s trade with China has surged significantly, increasing “fivefold”, while trade with the United States, although still quite large, has “improved at the level of trade with the East”.

The US is now grappling with internal issues such as widening wealth disparities, healthcare challenges, and joblessness. Their recent stance with regards to the genocide occuring in Palestine has exposed their double standards and  weakened its credibility on the international stage. These challenges have diminished their ability to make threats as effectively as they could before.

“In the last two or three decades the inequalities in the US have increased. If you look at the latest [2023] United Auto Workers strikes for the past several months, you begin to see a lot of gaps in terms of the CEO class, the senior management and shareholder class versus the workers on the shop floor and communities. That gulf is ever deepening. The health crisis in the US with over 60 million people that are excluded from the health plan or Medicare, you begin to see major gaps and inequalities that’s developing further and further. Then the bigger question is can the superpower status continue and most of the scholars are saying no.” 

Meanwhile, during the same period, China has elevated 500 million of its citizens to the middle class, providing them with a decent quality of life, along with access to education, infrastructure, technology, and employment opportunities.This has led to China’s development-focused model gaining favour over the US’s interventionist approach. This, along with China not being “involved in one international occupational conflict in the last 75 years”, has shone a different light on China. These international conflicts, wars, genocides have exposed the double standards of some Western nations, eroding their credibility on human rights and humanitarian issues.

“It’s quite clear that the warmongering and the military industry comes first before people, before human rights, and even close allies are having doubts. The whole Middle East is kind of divided and you can see even nations like Turkey, which is part of NATO, is taking a different position than the US and Europe. Turkey is moving closer to the East politically. There are huge shifts in different sentiments and it does show that while these conflicts are taking place, every statement around human rights by the US is seen as hypocritical. They can no longer defend their human rights foreign policy posture because it’s exposed. Every decision they take at the UN Security Council shows a kind of double standards on human rights.”


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