Insufficient immigration control, high levels of violence against women and children, an uneven quality of schools, a non-transparent tendering process, widespread corruption and poor police performance.
These are some of the descriptions of South Africa contained in the 2016 biennial report on the Implementation of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) released on 29 June by the US.
Reporting on the out-of-cycle review of South Africa’s Agoa eligibility, US Ambassador Michael Froman said in the report that its largest African trading partner had blocked US poultry, pork, and beef agricultural products from its market for years.
The year-long review culminated in US President Barack Obama announcing his intention to suspend duty-free treatment for all Agoa-eligible agricultural goods from South Africa effective January 4, 2016.
South Africa acted quickly to speed up negotiations around health issues relating to pork and poultry imports from the US and once an agreement was reached, Obama revoked his intention to suspend SA on 15 March.
Reviewing the country, Froman commended market conditions in South Africa, which he said has a “sophisticated financial sector and prices are generally market determined”.
“The United States and South Africa are committed to economic dialogue, including through the bilateral TIFA (Trade and Investment Framework Agreements).
“South Africa’s free trade agreement with the European Union enables EU products to enter South Africa at lower tariff rates than US products,” he said.
Critical of SA short-comings
However, he was critical of many of South Africa’s short-comings.
Froman said that while South Africa is a party to a number of United Nations counter-terrorism conventions and protocols as well as the African Union Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism, its policing of borders was not up to scratch.
“South African borders are considered very porous and immigration control remained insufficient over large portions of the border,” he said.
In June, the US warned about terror attacks by Islamic militants on Americans in South Africa. It said it “received information that terrorist groups are planning to carry out near-term attacks against places where US citizens congregate in South Africa, such as upscale shopping areas and malls in Johannesburg and Cape Town”.
In the report, Froman said South Africa’s “commitment to combating corruption during the reporting period has been mixed”.
“The Directorate of Priority Crimes and the Special Investigation Unit tackle white collar crime in the private sector and the government, but a recent Constitutional Court ruling held that the President and National Assembly had not upheld their constitutional duties.”
“The court criticised the president for his failure to heed the legal judgment of the Public Protector and criticised the National Assembly for its failure to exercise oversight over the executive branch,” he said.
Regarding corruption, he said: “The government contract tendering process is not transparent. Corruption and poor police performance are considered common and widespread. South Africa’s free press regularly reports on judicial and government allegations of public corruption.”
Froman blamed poor education for South Africa’s skills shortage.
“South Africa suffers from a shortage of skilled professionals and a surplus of low-skilled labourers. The quality of schools remains uneven and education is not free,” he said. “A highly rigid and politicised labour force resulted in extensive work stoppages that reduce output and bottleneck service delivery.”
South Africa’s high levels of domestic violence were of concern, Froman said.
“The government has developed and implemented programmes to stop domestic violence, but societal attitudes, a lack of resources, and inadequate training for law enforcement officials hampers implementation,” he said.
Future US relations with sub-Saharan Africa after the current Agoa extension ends in 2025 were also addressed.
While countries are encouraged to fully utilise Agoa until this deadline, the “administration is urging beneficiary countries to begin setting their sights on a future that goes beyond Agoa, to a more stable, permanent and mutually beneficial engagement on trade and investment.”
Kenya and Mauritius are the only two countries that have thus far officially indicated their interest in more formalised trade arrangements with the US. Dialogue on this matter between US and African counterparts continues.