SA trying to export cake to the US and eat it as well

SA needs to either make itself indispensable orcower, beg and grovel.

So, we have some trade benefits with the United States – turns out that there’s this legacy thing from the Bill Clinton era called the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which gives preferential quota and tax benefits on US imports from some African countries.

South Africa is one of the beneficiaries… to the benefit of $2.7 billion worth of exports in 2021 alone. Granted, we have been exporting more to China by about $1 billion of late, but our executive still apparently sees value in economic relations with the US.

The reason they sent Sydney Mufamadi with a delegation to Washington is probably because these benefits are set to expire in 2025. They were already set to expire in 2015, but were extended for 10 more years.

Back in 2015, we didn’t really have an issue with the US. Sure, there was the Crimea element but western countries were probably buoyed to support South Africa after the public outcry to the trillion-rand nuclear deal. They would just have to wait for Zuma to go away and South Africa would go back to loving the west to the detriment of Brics.

It was, however, not to be and I can’t imagine South Africa’s involvement in a joint military exercise with Russia and China in February makes the West happy. Sure, we only sent a measly frigate but we did cooperate with a state currently involved in a war that is opposed by the people Mufamadi has gone in to woo.

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Talk about sending somebody into a gun battle with a spoon: our infrastructure sucks, transport is expensive now that rail is stuffed and we’re sleeping with your enemies but please make it nice and cheap for us to sell you our stuff even though you may be able to get it cheaper elsewhere.

There are two ways of getting your way in international relations – you either make yourself indispensable or you cower, beg and grovel then say the Hail Mary, hoping for the best.

In terms of the former, South Africa is somewhat indispensable because we mine a lot of platinum. We mine about five times more than the next country and that happens to be Russia, so we really do have a leg up when it comes to the raw material of catalytic converters.

But, if South Africa becomes too expensive for the capitalist US, they can just apply some capital, ramp up their mining and cut us out of the market. So, we either need the export benefits to remain in place or make what is probably our biggest export pretty cheap. At that point, we would pretty much be grovelling.

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South Africa is playing this weird game in international relations where we don’t have an ability to commit, so we have these awkward relations with other countries where we get nice things out but still do what we want. It’s worked and we’ve been able to keep that Switzerland-of-Africa-esque non-partisan position for some time but that’s probably because we’d been taken reasonably seriously.

It’s difficult for any state to look at us now and think that an investment into South Africa would be a prudent one. Even if an investment made sense financially, it would be a tough pill to swallow accepting the economic and political ramifications of investing in SA.

So good luck Dr Sydney Mufamadi and Godspeed on your mission. Having been to Washington myself the best advice I can give is that if you want to impress anybody in South Africa while you’re in DC, take them to Nando’s. If our economy can’t impress them, you’ll need to make do with our cuisine.

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