TRALAC - Trade Law Centre

United States set to limit scope of Southern Africa trade talks, says Kirk

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Source: Bloomberg

The Obama administration won’t revive talks on a free trade accord with southern Africa and will instead focus on implementing separate agreements to bolster economic ties, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said.

Free trade negotiations with South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland, which began in 2003, were suspended in 2006 on complaints the U.S. was not willing to make enough concessions.

“After four or five rounds of negotiations it became increasingly apparent that we were approaching this through very different lenses,” Kirk said in an interview in Johannesburg.

The focus will now switch to the more limited Trade and Investment Development Cooperation Agreement that was signed in July. Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Africa Florizelle Liser will hold initial discussions with South African officials this week on how the accord can be taken forward.

Liser will also discuss how South Africa can benefit more from the American Growth and Opportunity Act, a law passed by congress in 2000 that aims to give qualifying sub-Saharan African countries favorable access to U.S. markets.

“South Africa is by far the largest beneficiary of trade under AGOA, if you take away the petroleum exports,” Kirk said. “Still there is a lot of room, a tremendous amount of room, for growth.”

The U.S. is South Africa’s biggest export market, and third largest source of imports, according to South Africa’s trade department.

Kirk led the U.S. delegation that attended the May 9 inauguration of Jacob Zuma as South Africa’s fourth post- apartheid president.

The change in government “is perhaps an opportunity to have a new start to what can be an improved and strengthened bilateral relationship between the U.S. and South Africa,” he said. “There is a great foundation here already. There are over 600 U.S. businesses invested in South Africa.”