By Ebi Kesiena
In South Africa, a Summit on trade relations between Africa and the United States got underway on Thursday, as Pretoria and Washington mend relations after an accusation that South Africa had cozied up to Russia.
According to local media, Ministers from about 40 sub-Saharan African countries benefiting from the African Growth and Opportunity Act, AGOA, are to hold talks with U.S. envoys for three days in South Africa’s most populous city, Johannesburg.
Joy Basu, the U.S.’s deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs said Washington chose South Africa to host the annual summit as “a sign of our commitment to our bilateral relationship.”
Prior to Basu’s statement, relations between Washington and Pretoria had been strained by the war in Ukraine, amid accusations that South Africa, which chose to stay neutral, had drifted closer to Russia.
In May, the U.S. ambassador to South Africa Reuben Brigety issued an unusual strong statement that alleged that a Russian freighter loaded up weapons and ammunition on a stop at a Cape Town naval base.
In response, a group of U.S. lawmakers called for South Africa to be kicked out of AGOA.
An independent panel appointed by South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa to investigate the matter has since concluded that there was no evidence to suggest weapons were loaded onto the ship.
Basu said, “we really appreciated the Ramaphosa’s administration investigations into the concerns that were raised.”
“South Africa is fully eligible to maintain its AGOA benefits,” she added.
Approved by the U.S. Congress in 2000, AGOA is the cornerstone of Washington’s economic and trade policy with Africa.
As part of the pact, countries that meet yearly democratic criteria can access the world’s largest economy duty-free.
However, it ends in 2025, and with little plan yet for any successor, talks are expected to revolve around a possible extension.