30 June 2013
South African President Jacob Zuma and US President Barack Obama emerged from their meeting in Pretoria on Saturday speaking in one voice on increased trade and investment in Africa.
Zuma received Obama and his delegation at the Union Buildings at the start of the US president’s three-day visit to South Africa. Their talks focused on boosting trade, business ties and regional security.
Africa ‘on the rise’
Speaking to journalists afterwards, Zuma told Obama that he was visiting Africa at the right time, when the continent was on the rise, shifting from “disinvestment to reinvestments”.
Africa was the second-fastest growing region after Asia and had become an attractive market for investment, Zuma said, adding: “Arising out of this visit, we would like to see increased investment in the economy for mutual benefit.”
Emphasising South Africa’s position as a financial and logistical gateway to the continent, Zuma tabled bankable projects ranging across infrastructure development, youth skills development, information and communication technology, agriculture and the green economy.
He said investment in these projects underpinned South Africa’s drive for regional integration, industrialisation and the localisation of supply and manufacturing.
Zuma said the US strategy towards sub-Saharan Africa, launched last year, was “well timed to take advantage of Africa’s growing market”.
South Africa ‘critical to US’
Obama said South Africa was critical to the US, as it was the gateway to the continent.
Responding to suggestions that the visit was prompted by China’s growing influence on the continent, Obama said: “I am here in Africa because the US needs to engage in a continent full of promise and possibilities”.
He said the US administration was not threatened by the interest showed by other regions in the continent, adding: “the more the merrier …. I welcome the attention Africa is receiving … It will help incorporate Africa into the global economy”.
Obama noted, however, that relationships should be mutually beneficial and that Africans had to ask questions such as, ‘Are they hiring African workers? How much [is the] profit?’ He noted that the continent had been heavily exploited for its raw materials.
Zuma said Africa had to be part of the global movement, adding that South Africa was willing to work with anyone for the benefit of Africa and towards a united continent.
Renewing, improving Agoa
Showing support for African growth, Obama announced that the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), which was one of the issues Zuma brought to the table during their meeting, would be renewed, upgraded and improved.
“I want to renew Agoa so that we can generate more trade and more jobs,” Obama told the packed press conference.
Trade negotiators, however, still needed to work out the details, Obama said.
Agoa, which allows southern African countries to ship certain products to the United States tariff-free, expires in 2015, but African countries are pushing for its extension.
Regarding to social issues, Obama praised South Africa for how it had managed its HIV/Aids prevention programme, saying it showed that aid was not “just a one-way street”.
‘We can work together’
He also commended South Africa for being at the forefront of matters relating to regional security and integration through the African Union (AU).
“Our governments don’t agree on everything, but we have seen progress. We can work together,” Obama said, citing successes in areas such as nuclear proliferation and climate change.
He believed that South Africa and the United States could stand shoulder to shoulder on issues of security, justice and fraud on the continent – a view that was shared by Zuma.
“We would like to cooperate with the US in enhancing peace-building and post-conflict reconstruction and development, under the umbrella of the United Nations and the African Union,” Zuma said, acknowledging concerns over matters such as the mushrooming of rebel movements in Africa.
On international peace and security, Zuma told Obama that South Africa remained concerned at the lack of progress in the Middle East peace process.
“We unequivocally support the Palestinian bid for statehood and believe in the principle of a two-state solution. We have noted your latest attempts to revive the stalled negotiations, and you have our support in this regard.
“At the same time, we are of the view that lasting peace in the Middle East would not be possible without addressing the other ongoing conflicts in the region, which are a source of much insecurity and instability.”
Zuma also touched on the long-overdue reform of the United Nations Security Council, telling Obama that it remained a high priority for South Africa, the African continent and the developing world as a whole.