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Bush on top means continuity in South Africa-US relations

Business Report, South Africa

America will continue to enter into bilaterals with states it views strategically

10 November 2004

By Andile Ntingi

Johannesburg - George Bush’s victory in last week’s fiercely contested US elections would not change the complexion of the free trade talks between South Africa and the world’s richest economy as the winners, the Republicans, were the proponents of liberal trade, an official from the foreign affairs department said yesterday.

Almost two months ago, negotiations between the US and the SA-led Southern African Customs Union (Sacu) were suspended after the two camps failed to reach consensus on a number of issues.

These included intellectual property, black economic empowerment and the notorious agricultural subsidies. The talks were initially scheduled to be completed in December this year.

However, Jan van Vollenhoven, the director for US affairs at the department of foreign affairs, said the win by the Republicans would provide continuity for the talks, which, if they succeeded, would extend local exporters’ preferential access to the $11 trillion (R68.3 trillion) US economy.

"The Republicans are more free trade oriented than the Democrats. "This is because the Democrats’ natural constituency is dominated by the trade unions and unions are more sensitive to issues of free trade," said Van Vollenhoven.

"Unions are concerned about job losses and exportation of jobs as a result of free trade. It is probably easier to negotiate free trade agreements with the Republicans than the Democrats."

Already Sacu - which comprises South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana and Namibia - was enjoying preferential market access to the US for its exports under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, a policy that was initiated by Bush’s predecessor, Bill Clinton.

Trade experts at the Institute for Global Dialogue said the Republicans’ victory would not change the US’s trade policy towards Africa as the Americans would continue to enter into bilateral agreements with countries with whom they had a strategic objective.