US Secretary of State's SA visit start of a 'new chapter' after seven years of silence

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South Africa's Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor (R) and Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) attend a strategic dialogue opening session meeting at the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation. (Andrew Harnik / POOL / AFP)
South Africa's Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor (R) and Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) attend a strategic dialogue opening session meeting at the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation. (Andrew Harnik / POOL / AFP)
  • US Secretary of State Antony Blinken started his Africa tour in South Africa. 
  • He held a strategic dialogue with Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Naledi Pandor. 
  • Blinken and Pandor said the talks would strengthen trade and investment opportunities between the two countries after seven years of "quiet" diplomacy. 

United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken believes his strategic dialogue visit to South Africa is the start of a new chapter in efforts to strengthen economic ties between the two countries.

Blinken started his Africa tour in South Africa on Monday and the visit is expected to focus on partnerships on climate change, health, infrastructure, trade and investment.

He held talks with Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor in Pretoria.

It is the first strategic dialogue between the US and South Africa in seven years.

A high-level visit of this kind did not occur under former US president Donald Trump. The last dialogue occurred in 2015 when former International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane visited the US to meet former US Secretary of State John Kerry.

The significance of Blinken's "brief" visit, along with the delegation of 50 US government representatives he brought along with him, wasn't lost on Pandor, who said it was necessary.

Pandor described the US as one of South Africa's important partners. 

"I believe this is a strategic partnership based on common values, and is the foundation of strengthening bilateral engagements between our two countries. Our gathering here after a quiet period of almost seven years, presents an opportunity to reintegrate on various fronts. I believe we should place the economic recovery in Africa [at] the front and centre of our agenda," Pandor said.

"We hope on the path to economic recovery, that we do not leave behind youth, women and people with disabilities," she added. 

Pandor added that she was eager for the US to invest more in South Africa, and turned to what she believes holds the two countries apart. 

READ: POLITICS THIS WEEK | US Secretary of State visits SA, as focus turns to Women's Day

In her opening remarks ahead of the talks, Pandor told Blinken the US needed to relook at tariffs on steel and aluminium from South Africa. 

The US makes up about 17% of South Africa's export-output market. She said much more could be achieved. 

"Our objective should be to expand two-way trade and investment which contribute to shared growth of countries. A start would be to quickly resolve the long-standing trade issues around market access, including removing tariffs on SA steel and aluminium imports into the US. The South African government has been hard at work to make it easier for foreign investors to invest in our country," Pandor said. 

Blinken said focusing on economic trade, health and climate change was crucial for both countries. 

He said South Africa was a critical voice globally and added that even though the US was South Africa's third biggest trading partner, "we can make something good even better".

Turning to climate change, Blinken said the US was committed to helping South Africa transition to a low-carbon economy.

"Climate is affecting both countries, and I think we all feel the urgency now. We have to find a way for an energy transition that allows us to meet most goals while supporting those most affected by climate change," Blinken said. 

The US Secretary of State was expected to announce the US new Africa strategy.

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