AGOA: The foundation of US-SA Trade – Ambassador Demetrios Marantis

Ambassador Demetrios Marantis is welcomed by SAIIA National Director, Elizabeth Sidiropoulos
Ambassador Demetrios Marantis is welcomed by SAIIA National Director, Elizabeth Sidiropoulos

The United States of America and South Africa will continue its strong partnership in economic growth, trade and investment.

This was the message from Ambassador Demetrios Marantis, Deputy United States Trade Representative in his address to the South African Institute of International Affairs.

Ambassador Marantis pointed out that last year U.S.-South Africa trade was up 33%. In 2009 American investment in South Africa hit nearly $6 billion. In addition, the South African Competition Commission’s approval of Wallmart’s $2.4 billion investment in Massmart is the largest U.S. investment in South Africa to date.

He noted that South Africa’s exports to the United States – in precious stones, metals and vehicles – grew to more than $8 billion. More than $3 billion of these exports entered the United States under the duty-free trade preference programme, the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). But, the Ambassador argued that the two partners can do more. “I am in Johannesburg this week on behalf of the Obama Administration and the U.S. Trade Representative, Ambassador Ron Kirk.” Ambassador Marantis said.

“Yesterday Trade Minister Robert Davies and I led our governments’ respective delegations at a meeting under the reinvigorated U.S.-South Africa Trade and Investment Framework Agreement [TIFA]. The TIFA is the premier bilateral forum for resolving trade and investment concerns and working together to realise our common ambitions for strong trade and investment ties.”

Ambassador Marantis indicated that since the TIFA was re-launched last year, discussions covered areas such as technical rules and regulations, regional integration, infrastructure development, intellectual property rights protection and reducing trade barriers to foreign investment. “The TIFA discussion has a very real and clear goal in mind – to increase exports, drive new investment and ultimately support good jobs for Americans and South Africans,”the Ambassador said.

The two countries have entered the TIFA talks having learned lessons from the 2003 negotiations between the United States and the Southern African Customs Union, of which Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland are members. He explained that the time was not right to pursue a two-way agreement and that both countries learned that their “interests were not aligned.”

However, the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) is the foundation of U.S.-SA trade and South Africa has seen successful one-way trade through the trade preference programme. Through its diverse mix of exports, South Africa is the biggest non-oil beneficiary of all 37 AGOA eligible countries.

The Ambassador will be travelling to Lusaka in Zambia next where the AGOA Forum gets underway tomorrow (8 and 9 June 2011).

As South Africa continues to promote regional economic integration, Ambassador Marantis also applauded the meeting next week that brings together Africa’s three major economic communities (SADC, EAC and COMESA) to launch negotiations of the Tripartite Free Trade Agreement. Ambassador Marantis explained that this a process the United States would watch with keen interest, especially as it relates to AGOA.

“A key next step is deciding what to do next on our preference program for Africa. AGOA is set to expire in 2015, and the Obama Administration is actively engaging AGOA beneficiaries, Congress, and stakeholders to determine what approach to take as we consider a possible renewal of AGOA,” said Ambassador Marantis.

“It is only logical that South Africa is at the heart of this discussion. Your industries’utilisation of AGOA for a diverse range of exports is an example for many other AGOA countries, many of which have yet to take full advantage of the program.”

In closing, Ambassador Marantis pointed out that many of South Africa’s exporting industries are world class, yet the country still struggles with unequal economic development. As the country now ranks among the rising middle-income countries through the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) grouping, the United States is asking how it can assist South Africa on this path.

“How do we help South Africa transition from a trade preferences recipient to a status more befitting of a competitive and growing global economic stakeholder? And how do we achieve such a transition in light of South Africa’s still uneven economic development? These questions, and their answers, are critical to your future,” said Ambassador Marantis.

Download the speech [.pdf]

Short Biography of Ambassador Demetrios Marantis

Demetrios Marantis serves as Deputy USTR, nominated for this position by President Barack Obama, and confirmed by the Senate on May 6, 2009. He is responsible for U.S. trade negotiations and enforcement in Asia and Africa.  He also leads USTR global initiatives on trade and development, labor, and the environment.

Demetrios Marantis recently served as Chief International Trade Counsel (Majority) for the Senate Finance Committee. In this capacity, he advised Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D – MT), as well as members and staff of the Finance Committee and Democratic Caucus, on trade and economic issues.

Mr. Marantis joined the committee in February of 2005 after serving as Issues Director for Sen. John Edwards on the Kerry-Edwards 2004 presidential campaign. Prior to the campaign, Mr. Marantis spent two years in Hanoi as Chief Legal Advisor for the U.S.-Vietnam Trade Council where he provided technical assistance on international trade matters.

Between 1998 and 2002, Mr. Marantis served as Associate General Counsel in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative where he negotiated provisions of international trade agreements – including the U.S.-Singapore and U.S. Chile Free Trade Agreements – and represented the United States in WTO dispute settlement proceedings, including the U.S.-Mexico dispute on telecommunications. Mr. Marantis also worked for five years in the Washington, D.C. and Brussels, Belgium offices of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld.

He holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School and an A.B. in Public and International Affairs from Princeton University.

7 Jun 2011