Biden blamed for bringing AGOA Forum to South Africa

The senate committee on foreign relations in America has voiced its dissatisfaction at US President Joe Biden’s decision to host the 20th African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Forum in South Africa.

In a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the office of the US trade representative Katherine Tai, senate member James Risch says he is concerned about Biden’s move to host the AGOA Forum in South Africa due to country’s relationship with Russia.

The letter is dated November 1.

Phone call to Hamas

Risch also raised concern about a recent interaction over the phone between South Africa and the Hamas, a Palestine military group dubbed terrorists by the US and Israel.

The forum, which runs from November 2 to 4, is underway at the Nasrec Expo Centre in Johannesburg.

“I write to reiterate my strong concerns regarding the Biden administration’s decision to hold the African Growth and Opportunity Act Forum in Johannesburg, South Africa,” writes Risch.

“I was also disappointed to learn that South Africa will remain fully eligible for AGOA’s duty-free trade preferences in 2024 despite South Africa’s continued actions that subvert US national security and foreign policy interests.

“South Africa’s relationship with Russia, and most recently with Iran and Hamas, undermines necessary eligibility safeguards in the AGOA statute, and the administration failed to take standard formal actions to communicate AGOA-related concerns to South Africa through a warning letter or demarche.

“The administration’s handling of AGOA, exemplified by its posture toward South Africa, makes it clear that congress must take correcting action.”

Risch said Biden’s economic policy support towards South Africa is “dangerous”.

“Recent statements and actions by the South African government against Israel’s right to self-defence and its engagement with Hamas [including a phone call by Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh] following its October 7 terrorist attack on Israel further prove the administration’s policy towards South Africa is dangerous.

“While Pandor reported discussing humanitarian aid to Gaza and denied media reports that she expressed support for Hamas in the call, a truly ‘non-aligned’ partner would engage with international third-party partners including the United Nations on humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza rather than the leader of a foreign terrorist organisation.

“Earlier this year, Foreign Minister Pandor also urged the International Criminal Court to arrest ‘the leaders of apartheid Israel’.

“This is not a matter of miscommunication or misunderstanding; South has taken a clear policy position.”

Decision compromises AGOA’s integrity

Risch said the decision by the US to host the AGOA Forum in SA “compromises the programme’s integrity and our trade preferences”.

“Recent actions by South Africa to directly challenge the United States and align with our adversaries make the Johannesburg forum another example of the administration sending mixed messages and engaging in contradictory foreign policy.

“The inconsistent responses and actions of the administration undermine US credibility, making it more challenging for allies to align with our policies and to deter our adversaries’ efforts,” writes Risch.

Speaking to Sunday World on Friday, Clayson Monyela, Department of International Relations and Cooperation head of public diplomacy, dismissed the letter as “illogical” and a “non-issue.”

“This is just the view of one congressman and not the entire senate. His views did not succeed because the AGOA Forum is going on as we speak,” Monyela said.

“This tells you that the individual does not represent the views of the United States as a whole. We [South Africa] have a good working relationship with president Biden.

“The views of one man do not move the needle. The views of one congressman are illogical and this is a non-issue.”

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