Good for Africa?

Robert Laing

Robert Laing

US trade policy with Africa has been a peripheral issue in this presidential campaign, making it unclear if South Africans should be rooting for Barack Obama or John McCain as Americans go to the polls today.

The US became this country's largest customer during George Bush's presidency thanks to the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), meaning the outcome of this election may have huge repercussions for our economy.

Imports from South Africa have cracked $9billion a year, according to US government statistics. The Department of Trade and Industry's website said South African exports to the US totalled over R15billion for the year to March.

The Agoa policy of encouraging economic growth in Africa by opening the world's largest market to imports was conceived by Bill Clinton's Democratic administration, but enacted and implemented by the Bush government.

The US now buys 12,1percent of SA's exports, followed by Germany with 9,4percent and Japan with 9,1percent, says Department of Trade and Industry data.

Before Agoa, Japan was by far South Africa's biggest customer, buying coal for its power stations. The US, by exempting more than 98percent of South African products from its import duties, has helped this country move up the value chain from mining to manufacturing.

The US consul-general in Johannesburg Andrew Passen, along with US Commercial Service senior officer Craig Allen, reassured exporters during a panel debate last week that Agoa would stay irrespective of who the next US president is.

This is despite Agoa appearing to conflict with Obama's US job protectionism platform.

According to website, McCain's campaign team promised his administration would "expand and improve" Agoa along with other Bush African projects like the Millennium Challenge Corporation and the President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief.

Obama's campaign team, on the other hand, has been vague on Agoa. "Contrary to the ideas of some Obama romanticists, having a Kenyan father does not automatically impart an understanding of Kenya, let alone the whole of the African continent," said