Dep. Min. Botes: SA will continue to build multilateralism

Deputy Minister of DIRCO, Alvin Botes.

The values that inspire and guide South Africa as a nation are deeply rooted in decades of struggle for liberation. As a beneficiary of many acts of selfless solidarity in the past, South Africa believes strongly that what it wishes for its people should be what it wishes for the citizens of the world.

Our foreign policy therefore draws on the spirit of internationalism and is intertwined with our pursuit of a better Africa in a better world.

As we celebrate 27 years of freedom, as a generation we should always be conscious that there is a dialectical relationship between our 27 years of freedom and the 27 years of imprisonment which sought to break the resilient spirit of Nelson Mandela.

As we celebrate the silver jubilee of South Africa’s Constitution, we are conscious of the constitutional values reflected in the Bill of Rights. Our foreign policy aims should not conflict with the realisation of these rights.

The rights to self-determination, social justice and freedom are inalienable rights. Political freedom is at the apex of our envisaged vision for a just and equitable world, which errs on the side of the most vulnerable.

The objective of global solidarity and to deepen South-South cooperation is an important attribute in our foreign policy repository.

We pause to mark 119 years of the independence of Cuba from the Spanish empire and the end of the first US military occupation on 20 May 1902. Cuba remains a historical and strategic partner and our relations continue to display a good model of South-South cooperation and human solidarity.

South Africa condemns the continuation of unilateral sanctions against Cuba and will continue to support the annual resolutions in the United Nations General Assembly on the “Necessity of Ending the Economic, Commercial and Financial Blockade against Cuba”.

On 23 June 2021, the UN General Assembly will again consider the resolution to put an end to the US blockade against Cuba, which includes the Helms-Burton Title III Extra-territorial Act, and it is a resolution that will receive South Africa’s support. We trust that the leadership of President Biden will be inspired by the US foreign policy initiative of 2015, when President Barack Obama authorised a process of back-channel negotiations and normalised diplomatic relations with Cuba.

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, the Cuban people and Henry Reeves International Medical Brigades have been an inspiration to humanity with their commitment to support other countries in their battle against this deadly virus.

Even before the pandemic began, Cuban doctors and health professionals were already providing medical support in 59 countries; during the Covid-19 pandemic, Cuba deployed 187 of her most skilled medical practitioners to assist the South African people in our fight against Covid-19; treated 239,411 patients; and performed 40,391 nursing procedures and 1,215 surgical interventions. They saved the lives of 1,423 patients.

The Cubans provide this solidarity and ask for nothing in return, because they believe in global solidarity and possess a genuine commitment to make our world a better place for everyone. They are instinctively multilateralist and progressive internationalists.

We must reiterate our unwavering support for the people of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. We call on the United States of America to reconsider its stance on Venezuela, considering the report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Sanctions and Human Rights, Alena Douhan. She published her initial recommendations in February 2021, which called for the lifting of US unilateral coercive measures.

Within the Western Hemisphere, the Americas and Caribbean span a vast geographical area that includes developed, developing and least developed economies as well as regional and global powers. Stark contrasts exist among these countries, inter alia in terms of territorial size, populations, economies, technologies and military power. The diversity within this hemisphere necessitates a nuanced foreign policy approach and offers a wide range of opportunities for engagement that spans the whole spectrum of South Africa’s foreign policy priorities.

The US is a strategic partner for South Africa and a major export market for value-added products, as well as a significant source of foreign direct investment (FDI), technology transfer, development assistance and tourism. The bilateral relationship continues to grow, and we must regain the momentum that was lost because of the Covid-19 pandemic and policy shifts under the Trump administration.

South Africa believes that agreements reached through multilateral forums must be implemented in good faith. We are pleased, therefore, to note that the new administration in the US, under President Biden, has taken steps to return to the multilateral fold by rejoining the Paris Climate Accord and the World Health Organization, and her leadership on negating the matter of vaccine nationalism.

South Africa and the United States have extensive relations that cover a wide spectrum of issues that are aligned to South Africa’s domestic priorities, including areas such as health (Pepfar), education, science and technology, water and the environment. It should be noted that the Pepfar allocation for 2021 to 2024 by the US has been cut by 11%, but still amounts to $465.9-million. The Agoa agreement continues to facilitate trade between South Africa and the US and amounts to R173-billion.

Our citrus exports increased by 30% in 2020 due to the international need for vitamin C nutrients as a result of the pandemic. South Africa will be using the opportunity to reset the bilateral relationship with the US in pursuit of our national interests. South Africa is unequivocal in her view that the deepening of multilateralism is paramount to world peace.

In addition, contact with the African diaspora in the region would serve to enhance relations with South Africa and the African continent, especially with respect to the Caribbean countries. The African diaspora in the Americas, particularly in the Caribbean, continues to have significance for South Africa, considering their support for Africa’s liberation and a shared vision of an equitable world.

Canada remains a vital ally in helping address our national priorities, including support for our efforts to build a capable state. South Africa and Canada have a shared commitment to multilateralism, gender empowerment and building social cohesion. We are also seeing continued strong investments by Canada in the mining sector and will be strengthening this cooperation further in the areas of mineral beneficiation, value addition and support for junior miners.

Similar to South Africa, the Covid-19 pandemic continues to have a devastating impact in Latin America and the Caribbean, with significant regional economic decline that has resulted in rising unemployment, poverty and inequalities and a significant loss of lives.

South Africa will build on the existing solid relations with the region to facilitate mutually beneficial cooperation in several areas such as agribusiness, biotechnology, blue economy, education and skills, energy (especially biofuels and renewable energy), mining, health, pharmaceuticals, science and technology, water and waste management, human rights, South-South partnerships and multilateral cooperation to advance the development agenda of the South.

The countries of Western Europe are well placed to support South Africa’s post-Covid-19 economic recovery. This applies both to our bilateral relationship with these countries, as well as to the South Africa-EU Strategic Partnership, which continues to serve as the main platform of engagement between South Africa and the EU and its member states. This region includes some of our major trading partners, sources of FDI and tourism and providers of development assistance.

In the year ahead, we will focus more on developing relations in those areas that will assist us to address our domestic challenges. These include the promotion of investment, skills development, promoting exports, protecting our market share and promoting our country as a preferred tourist destination.

We will be working with the countries of Western Europe to support President Cyril Ramaphosa’s target to attract $100-billion in investment. Total investment from Europe is estimated at around R1.4-trillion, which represents about 77% of total FDI in the country. It has made a significant contribution to job creation and industrialisation in South Africa.

The apex event in terms of our relations with Western Europe will be South Africa’s hosting of the eighth South Africa-EU summit, which will revitalise the strategic partnership between South Africa and the EU. The strength of this partnership is based on shared values and interests, including effective multilateralism, the promotion of peace and security, human rights, democracy, the rule of law, free and fair trade and sustainable development across both regions.

We trust that in the new SA-EU multiannual indicative programme for the period 2021 to 2028, which will be under the EU’s newly created neighbourhood development and international cooperation instrument, the EU’s development support for South Africa’s national programmes will continue.

For us, the critical aspects to be considered by the EU and its member states in terms of development cooperation are the targets as expressed in our National Development Plan, and our recently adopted Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan.

South Africa’s trade relationship with the United Kingdom continues unchanged after the UK left the EU and the country remains one of South Africa’s key trading partners. The strong and historic relationship that we have with this region will be an important advantage as we look towards rebuilding our economy and pursue our domestic, regional and international priorities.

Article originally published at Daily Maverick on 25 May 2021.