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South Africa says it has US backing to host AGOA conference

South Africa’s government said it has US backing to host a conference on the African Growth and Opportunity Act this year after four American congressmen urged the Biden administration to relocate the event over the nation’s relations with Russia.

No decision has been taken by either the State Department or the White House to move the meeting that’s scheduled to take place in November, Department of International Relations and Cooperation spokesman Clayson Monyela said on Twitter on Tuesday.

“South Africa enjoys the support of the US government” in hosting the forum, he said.

South Africa has angered the US over the past year by abstaining from United Nations resolutions condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and after hosting Russian and Chinese warships for military exercises in February.

Last month, the US ambassador to Pretoria accused it of loading arms onto a Russian ship and said this could imperil its access to the US market. President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration denied the allegation about the weapons.

US officials, including Senator Chris Coons asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken on June 9 to explore other possible locations to host this year’s forum, according to a letter published on Monyela’s Twitter handle.

The New York Times reported on the letter earlier on Tuesday.

“If South Africa continues to demonstrate support for Russia in its unlawful invasion of Ukraine, then hosting the forum in another country in sub-Saharan Africa would send a clear and important message that the US continues to stand with Ukraine and will not accept our trading partners provision of aid to Russia’s ongoing and brutal invasion,” the congressmen said in the letter.

AGOA expires in 2025 and US officials have previously said the qualifying criteria for beneficiaries could be revised or the program replaced.

South Africa ships cars and agricultural produce to the US under the accord. Last year, it exported $2.7 billion of goods using AGOA and the so-called Generalized System of Preferences.

Monyela insisted that relations between South Africa and the US are “mutually beneficial…even in the context of AGOA.”

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