TRALAC - Trade Law Centre

South Africa: United States relations - a post-election prognosis

Wednesday, 10 June 2009


The following are the prepared remarks by Welile Nhlapo, ambassador of South Africa to the United States, at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC on Wednesday, June 10, 2009:

Chairperson, Ambassador Howard Wolpe

Ambassador Jonnie Carson, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs

Hon. Naledi Pandor, Minister of Science and Technology

You're Excellencies, members of the Diplomatic Corpse

Fellow Compatriots

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

Allow me to first thank the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars for bringing us together to examine the important subject of US/South Africa relations. This seminar will be a valuable contribution to the ongoing processes of engagement between the SAG and its civil society; between the SAG and the Obama Administration and within the SAG government following a cabinet decision to review these relations with the objective of strengthening them.

It always feels good to be in such distinguished company to discuss issues of importance to our young democracy.

At the best of times and the worst of times, one thing always remained clear, that the good relations we enjoy with the government and people of this country are rooted in shared values and history. They are of such a strategic nature that they will survive any turbulence. Indeed the recent description of South Africa by the Secretary of State as a strategic ally, calls for a deeper reflection on our existing good relations.

As with any relationship, we sometimes experience difficult moments. We have always ensured that our differences are understood, acknowledged, and managed within established mechanisms. We must admit that sometimes we failed ourselves particularly in multilateral forums where group interests and power politics tends to take centre stage; many players and spectators are involved and the issues are much more complex and contentious than in a bilateral environment.

That is why we always endeavor to use our good bilateral relations to discuss our engagements in multilateral forums. Political dialogue should continue to be the basis for building a better understanding of what informs our approaches and positions.

I am being upfront on this since our differences during our tenure in the Security Council have become an unfortunate reference in defining our relations by some. Let me place on record that we have discussed these issues frankly and concluded that our differences have been largely around mandates of United Nations organs and the issues they deal with. It has never been about merits and demerits of the substantive issues placed on the agenda.

Let me also clear a related matter. Our constitution is founded on a firm human rights basis and provides for the institutions to guarantee their protection. This feeds into and has become an important component of our foreign policy guidelines. Like in any other country, this is not the sole core pillar of our foreign policy.

This will also explain why we have regular consultations on human rights and the work of the Human Rights Council with the US Administration and other interested parties.

Distinguished participants, Ladies and Gentlemen

At the outset of our democracy we engaged the Clinton Administration through the bi-national commission which contributed largely to policy formulation for the implementation of our Reconstruction and Development Programs [RDP]. This also laid the basis for a structured conduct of our bilateral relations and cooperation in political matters, principally – conflict resolution on the African continent.

Some of the working groups finished their work and folded up; however some committees and working groups remained and continued to be the medium through which we promote cooperation programs around defense, science and technology, health, trade and political consultations.

In the last ten years the structured engagement continued under a new bilateral agreement signed by presidents Bush and Mbeki in 2001. The health and trade issues were integrated into PEPFAR and AGOA when South Africa became eligible.

The defense committee continues to meet twice a year and areas of cooperation are in place. The Science and Technology committee continues to exist and indeed the political forum, but both have not been meeting regularly. Efforts to revive these are subjects of continuous discussions.

Based on the experience of the past fifteen years and given new challenges and changes on both sides, we believe that there is in place renewed goodwill and commitment to deepen our relations. Lines of communication have been established at the appropriate levels and some important discussions have already taken place.

In these discussions we have been able to identify other areas of mutual interest and benefit. We are surely poised to broaden the scope of our cooperation to include new opportunities around climate change and renewable energy.

We also believe that oncoming meetings of the G8, UNGA and G20 provide us with the opportunity to establish the right chemistry between our presidents. We need to build on these in anticipation of a fully fledged bilateral engagement at the highest level.

The US Congress is one important institution where we have access and enjoy a favorable relationship. We continue to engage members and committees of both houses and across the isle. Evidence of this was the passing of the resolution by both houses that removed the African National Congress from the list of terrorist organizations.

This was an important contribution by Congress towards the consolidation of our bilateral relations. Indeed the excellent relations we have with congressional staffers are an invaluable access point. Congress is an important institution to engage on legislative processes that are crucial to our continent, sub-region and country specific concerns.

Still on the policy front, allow me to acknowledge the many opportunities provided to us by the Think Tanks and NGO's in this city, particularly those who focus on African issues. They continue to be a channel through which we can express our interests and concerns on policy issues in which they have much influence particularly with Congress. We need to strengthen our partnership with them and coordinate our initiatives.

A growing sphere of importance is the people to people relations. There is dynamic contact amongst various sectors of our populations. A growing number of American citizens visit our country as tourists and return to partner with our people in projects mainly around education, health and micro-financing. This is a valued contribution to our development agenda.

We have also noticed an increase in university exchange programs where for now mostly US students are the main beneficiaries. The challenge here is to strike a balance that will create space for exposure of South African students to US tertiary institutions and research opportunities.

There is indeed a lot of goodwill that exist in this country towards South Africa. We enjoy the advantage of a good spread of former anti apartheid activists across various institutions in both the private and public sector. They continue to be our dependable reservoir and a very valuable resource. The same can be said about the African Diaspora.

Relevant Links

* Southern Africa

* South Africa

* U.S., Canada and Africa

Like us, they have an interest in the success of our young democracy in who's coming in to being they had an important role to play. We believe that this rich tapestry of connections and partnerships will go a long way to contribute towards a robust relationship between our two countries.

We will remain guided by the key priorities that have been determined by our government in our forward march towards a better life for all our people. We are convinced that in this country we have an opportunity for partnerships that will help us deliver on these priorities.

Our international engagements continue to contribute to, are informed and guided by our domestic imperatives – our national interest. We need to do more in our public diplomacy and outreach programs to clarify these issues.

Thank you.

“ Latest AGOA Trade Data currently available on

Click here to view a sector profile of South Africa's bilateral trade with the United States, disaggregated by total exports and imports, AGOA exports and GSP exports.

Other regularly updated trade statistics on include: (click each link to view)

  • AGOA-Beneficiary Countries’ AGOA and GSP Trade Aggregates

  • AGOA Trade by Industry Sector

  • Apparel Trade under AGOA’s Wearing Apparel Provisions

  • Latest Apparel Quotas under AGOA

  • Bilateral Trade Data for all AGOA-eligible countries individually.