Obama, Zuma to highlight trade, HIV

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Pretoria – The upcoming visit to South Africa by United States President Barack Obama will further affirm relations between Pretoria and Washington, particularly in the area of trade and the fight against the HIV/Aids pandemic.

“The visit will provide an opportunity for both countries to reflect on the positive work done by the US on the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief...” International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane told reporters at a briefing on Tuesday.

Observers say the creation of the $15 billion PEPFAR programme in 2003 marked a significant increase in funding and attention to the Aids epidemic in Africa. But the decision the US took to reduce this funding in South Africa has sparked concerns it may affect interventions to address the disease.

But Nkoana-Mashabane said the meeting between Obama and Zuma would try to “acknowledge” the positive impact of the PEFPFAR programme on the health care sector in SA.

“The United States continues to support South Africa’s domestic priorities and has made an effort to align its assistance programmes and projects with these priority areas. South Africa and the US face a number of common challenges such as the quest to improve public education and health…”

This is Obama’s second trip to sub-Saharan Africa. He is due to arrive in South Africa on Friday for his first official visit as president to the continent’s largest economy. His African tour also includes stops in Senegal and Tanzania.

President Jacob Zuma expressed confidence this week, saying the US President’s visit to South Africa will be a boost for the country’s economy battling low growth and a weakening currency.

Nkoana-Mashabane emphasised that the United States remained a major economic partner for South Africa and continued to feature high on the list of trade and investment partners.

The United States is one of the five major trading partners of South Africa, and trade with the US has recovered to the levels of 2008 before the global financial crisis. More than 600 US companies were operating in South Africa, providing employment to over 120 000 local people.

“We encourage US companies to continue to trade in Africa. We believe SA has become the leader in the continent and land of opportunity,” said Nkoana-Mashabane.

More than 90% of South African exports to the US are believed to be gaining access to that market duty-free through the African Growth and Opportunities Act (Agoa).

South Africa is among the countries in the continent pushing for an extension of the Agoa window of not less than 10 years ahead of the September 2015 deadline.

Nkoana-Mashabane said Agoa needed to be expanded, so that “we do not continue to be the providers of raw material”.

She said Agoa had boosted bilateral trade between the USA and South Africa.  It is estimated that about 98% of South African and other sub-Saharan African countries’ exports to the USA receive preferential treatment under Agoa.

On Saturday, Obama will meet President Zuma and later hold a "town hall" event with young African leaders at the University of Johannesburg’s Soweto Campus. He will also hold talks with Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, chairperson of the African Union Commission.

US First Lady Michelle Obama, meanwhile, will have tea with Zuma’s wife, Thobeka Zuma. The Obamas will then attend an official dinner hosted by President Zuma.

On Sunday, they will fly to Cape Town to visit the prison museum on Robben Island. Obama will then stop at a community centre focused on healthcare with retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He will go on to give a speech of his African tour at the University of Cape Town. – SAnews.gov.za