Donald Trump was elected as the 45th President of the USA and his introduction of a radical shift in policy will have a significant global effect. His “America First” policy could potentially have a profound effect on US – SA relations. Trump made it clear in his inauguration speech that he believes that the American government has spent too much money on foreign affairs, to the detriment of the American people. He plans to make decisions that only benefit American interests saying: “Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families.”
A large part of Trump’s “America First” policy focuses on trade. The United States is currently South Africa’s third largest trading partner. This is largely due to the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). AGOA is a trade agreement whereby eligible sub-Saharan African countries can export to the USA tariff-free. Trump has publicly opposed free trade agreements such as NAFTA and AGOA, so these agreements may be on the chopping block. In South Africa AGOA has also publicly been met with anger due to the negative effect it has had on the poultry industry. The South African government was forced to make concessions on chicken imports in order to remain part of AGOA. This has led to an influx of imports from the European Union, shackling South Africa’s own poultry industry.
Another potential area of dispute is the amount of US foreign aid spent in South Africa. According to the United States’ Foreign Assistance website, around $ 111 million (about R1.5 Billion) of US aid was spent in South Africa in 2016, with 83% of the money focused on combating HIV and AIDS. Currently, the US plans to spend around $ 268 million (around R3.6 Billion) in Africa in 2017. This could be subject to change considering the new administration’s view on Africa. Earlier this month, The New York Times reported an article entitled “Trump Team’s Queries About Africa Point to Scepticism About Aid” about a leaked memo from the Trump transition team, which seems to question the current relationship between Africa and the United States. The document includes questions such as “With so much corruption in Africa, how much of our funding is stolen? Why should we spend these funds on Africa when we are suffering here in the US?” In the same article Monde Muyangwa, director of the Africa program at the Woodrow Wilson Institute said: “The framing of some of their questions suggests a narrower definition of US interests in Africa, and a more transactional and short-term approach to policy and engagement with African countries.”
The new Trump administration may also affect South Africa’s hunting industry and controversial trophy hunting trade. According to a 2015 Daily Mail article, Donald Trump’s sons, Eric and Donald Jr are both avid hunters. Trump said: “My sons love to hunt…They’re great marksmen, great shots and love it.” Therefore, Trump may lift the ban on hunting trophy imports to benefit his sons. Outdoor Life reported that Donald Jr said: “I will be there to make sure the people who run the US Fish and Wildlife Service and so on know how much sportsmen do for wildlife and conservation.”
Although the new international climate may result in some uncertainty for South Africans, Cynthia Harvey, the US embassy spokesperson, reaffirmed the key relationship between South Africa and the US. She said, “We are optimistic that President-elect Trump and his administration will view South Africa as the long-term strategic partner and friend to the United States that it has been for many years.”
As of 3 February, no official statement regarding South Africa has been made by the Trump administration. The relationship between the US and South Africa will almost certainly be affected. How exactly, and to whose benefit, is yet to be determined.
Illustration: Lené Stroebel