Pretoria: The South Africa government looks poised to strengthen ties with the United States by agreeing on Tuesday to build closer cooperation in areas of aviation, energy and security.
At a press conference in Pretoria, International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane told visiting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that South Africa stood ready to welcome any partner that would further the country’s growth objectives.
With reports that South Africa was preparing for a cut to the funding it receives from the US government for HIV and Aids programmes over the next five years, Nkoana-Mashabane called on the US government to continue its contribution to the fight against the disease in South Africa through its President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) programme.
Through the programme, the US had contributed $3.2 billion to support HIV and Aids prevention, care, and treatment in SA since 2004. While the South African government puts more money into HIV and Aids programmes than any other country on the continent, significant funding comes from donors such as PEPFAR.
Without commenting on the reported cut in funding, Clinton said the US was “still seriously committed” to eradicating HIV and Aids and would continue to avail resources in this regard.
“We all agree that we are working towards this HIV free generation and America commits to be part of that fight we will see this fight through the end with our partners including South Africa,” she said.
Nkoana-Mashabane also used the opportunity to invite the US private sector to invest in South Africa’s infrastructure build programme announced by President Jacob Zuma earlier this year.
“You will agree that there’s a window of opportunities waiting here… as long we agree on the terms as set by us, there are plenty of opportunities. We are committed to being participants in the economic well-being of any region and the US in among those countries,” she said.
Clinton, who is on a four-day visit to South Africa, launched her diplomatic journey to African nations, criss-crossing the continent with visit in countries like Senegal, South Sudan, Kenya and Ghana in an attempt to strengthen diplomatic and economic ties.
On Tuesday, she announced a $500 000 programme to help South African students with financial assistance to study in the United States. The money will cover visa application fees and tuition as well as travelling.
“We recognise that strengthening South Africa’s education, like in any country, is essential to your economic future,” she said.
On trade issues, the Industrial Development Cooperation has signed a $2 billion agreement to provide credit guarantees as part of stimulating the growth of South Africa’s energy sector. A new initiative by USAID will also make available $150 million to small and medium size businesses in South Africa, with the hope of creating more than 20 000 jobs.
South Africa’s remains the US’s largest trading partner in Africa, with exports totalling $7 billion in 2011 – up by 30 percent compared to the previous year.
Observers say the US is becoming more interested in the African continent, with Washington also increasingly recognising South Africa’s growing influence in world affairs after Pretoria joined the economic bloc Bric and recently taking up an influential role at the African Union.
Clinton said the US has also committed to include South Africa as it prepared to extend the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) beyond 2015.
AGOA is a unilateral trade preference programme enacted by the United States in 2000. The programme also has a Third Country Fabric Provision (TCFP) from which South Africa has been excluded since its inception.
Inclusion of South Africa in the TCFP would enable South African exporters to enjoy AGOA benefits for clothing and to source clothing inputs from countries outside Africa.
“We want to see South Africa included in the new extension and we going to do our best to make sure that it is done,” Clinton said.
She said the meeting today laid the foundation for the development of joint business projects in education and health.
On the international front, the two agreed that a political solution was needed to end the political turmoil in Syria. The chaos in that country prompted 1 316 civilians and 12 soldiers to flee to Turkey Monday night.
“We all agreed that this carnage has to stop and how we help the Syrian people to resolve this problem is crucial,” said Nkoana-Mashabane.