CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers is urging the Biden administration to impose sanctions on South Africa over its alleged support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, The New York Times reported Tuesday.
Lawmakers have raised concerns about Russia’s aid to South Africa, including the alleged supply of arms, which they say is a way for the country to gain trade benefits from the United States under the law. There is a question mark on the qualification which gives better market access to qualifying sub-Saharan African countries.
The letter, dated June 9, was sent to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, US Trade Representative Catherine Tai and National Security Adviser Jack Sullivan.
In response, South African Foreign Ministry spokesperson Clayson Monyela said the letter had been “noted,” but South Africa still had the support of the US government to host the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) meeting.
South Africa is one of the major beneficiaries of AGOA, a law that provides duty-free access to the US market for sub-Saharan African countries that meet certain conditions. The country’s exports to the US through AGOA were estimated at $3 billion last year, and the US is South Africa’s second largest trading partner after China.
Lawmakers proposed moving the upcoming AGOA meeting scheduled for November to another country to send a stronger message that the U.S. stands with Ukraine and does not accept trading partners aiding Russia’s ongoing aggression.
The letter was signed by Democratic Senator Chris Coons, Republican Senator Jim Risch, Democratic Representative Gregory Meeks and Republican Representative Michael McCall.
Although the US considers South Africa an important political and economic partner, South Africa’s historic ties with Russia, dating back to the Soviet era, have raised concerns. While South Africa claims to adopt a non-aligned stance on the Ukraine conflict, the US sees some of South Africa’s recent actions as supporting Russia rather than maintaining neutrality.
Those concerns came to the fore last month when the US ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigitte, accused the country of supplying arms to Russia via a cargo ship that secretly visited a key South African naval base in December.
Lawmakers also cited the visit of a Russian military plane to a South African airbase in April, as well as South Africa’s hosting of Russian and Chinese warships for naval exercises in February, marking the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion. It’s on birthday.
US lawmakers expressed serious concerns that holding the 2023 AGOA forum in South Africa would implicitly endorse the country’s harmful support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and possible violation of US sanctions.
South Africa’s ruling party recently said it would welcome a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin, even though Putin has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Ukraine.
The main opposition party sees the lawmaker’s letter as a sign that Washington’s patience with South Africa over its relationship with Russia is quickly wearing thin.
Although the Biden administration has not yet mentioned specific sanctions or punitive measures against South Africa, analysts believe that trade law could be used as a possible means of punishment. Any ban on South Africa’s trade with the US would have serious consequences for the continent’s most developed country, which is already suffering from economic stagnation, unemployment and an energy crisis.
A spokesman for South African President Cyril Ramaphosa dismissed any talk of formal sanctions against South Africa over Russian ties as reckless and purely alarmist.