Here’s Why You Should Care About the US Election

What influence could a Republican win have on US relations with South Africa?

A Trump presidency, based on statements made during the campaign for the White House, is likely to be less engaged on matters like trade and aid and multilateral solutions to international problems such as climate change than a Clinton presidency.

More specifically for South Africa, Trump would not likely favour the proposed SACU-US free trade agreement (FTA).  Given that the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) expires in 2025, ideally negotiations on the FTA should start under the next administration if they are to be finalised and approved by Congress in time. This is significant, as trade with the US was USD$12.7 billion in 2015. AGOA has created approximately 60,000 jobs for South Africans in labour-intensive industries such as agriculture and automotives. Failing to negotiate a new trade agreement post-AGOA will almost certainly reduce South Africa’s exports to the US, which totalled USD$896 million in 2016 (YTD June). Additionally, for fellow SACU member Lesotho, AGOA has provided a size-able boost to the garment and textile industry, providing exports worth USD$300 million in 2015. This number is significant for South Africa, with approximately 3% of the labour force engaged in the manufacture of textiles and garments exported to the US under AGOA.

What outcome should South Africans hope for?

In terms of trade and aid, a Clinton victory will likely be more favourable for South Africa. Clinton is more likely to compromise on a post-AGOA trade agreement in order to acknowledge South African domestic policy concerns, while Trump will likely take a harder line in negotiations, which could lead to negotiations stalling. Though perhaps more relevant for the rest of the Continent than South Africa, Clinton also has a history of foreign aid to Africa during her tenure as Secretary of State and through the Clinton foundation, while Trump’s isolationist stance suggests he might place less focus on aid to Africa.

Is there anything in either of the candidates’ policy promises that would negatively impact SA?

Neither candidate has specifically focused on South Africa in their campaigns. An analysis of the foreign policy stance of the two candidates on matters that affect Africa as a whole, such as US contributions to the United Nations and other muliti-lateral bodies, foreign aid and continued commitment to free trade, show fairly consistently that Clinton would as president support more continued US engagement on all of these. However, both candidates have expressed concern over the loss of US jobs due to trade agreements and have promised to work to stem the move of jobs to other countries in the future.

In what ways could the outcome of the election affect South Africans’ everyday lives?

The results of the election might directly impact the lives of South Africans who currently are employed in industries which export to the US under AGOA. The leading exporting industries are the automotive, chemical and agricultural industries. If the future president does not decide to negotiate a post-AGOA agreement these jobs could be lost, and if they negotiate a more comprehensive FTA exports and jobs could be expanded – though the effects would be delayed. This president must start negotiations for a new agreement now but it would not take effect until after AGOA’s expiry in 2025.

Also, the way in which the future president deals with the conflict in Syria could have global implications for the spread of terrorism, which has reached all corners of the globe (including North, East and West Africa).

How will Americans living in South Africa vote?

In general Americans living most places abroad are more prone to vote for Hillary, and this is likely the case in South Africa as well. This is because the profile of people who live abroad is generally more liberal leaning, and thus would be more likely to vote for any democratic candidate. Trump’s populist rhetoric of making America great again and further closing America’s borders both in terms of trade and immigration is also less likely to resonate with Americans who have crossed borders themselves.


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