October 7, 2022

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Remarks at the Opening of the U.S.-South African Strategic Dialogue – United States Department of State

14 min read

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Pretoria, South Africa

Department of International Relations and Cooperation

MINISTER PANDOR: Well, good morning, everyone. We didn’t really want to come here because we were enjoying our discussion so much, but we took pity on you and decided that we should come out. So allow me to begin.

Secretary of State Mr. Antony Blinken; Ms. Heather Merritt, chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria; Ambassador-Designate Ruben Brigety II; Excellencies; Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Ambassador Molly Phee; Assistant Secretary of Global Health Affairs and Department of Health and Human – Assistant Secretary for Global Affairs Ms. Pace; Ambassador Nkengasong – where are you? You’re a – you’ve deserted us. I don’t want to call you a traitor but – Ambassador Nkengasong, U.S. global AIDS coordinator and head of PEPFAR; National Security Council – National Senior Director for Africa Mr. Devermont; Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs Mr. Fernandez; senior officials of both the governments of South Africa and of the United States of America; ladies and gentlemen – and Secretary Blinken, you don’t have to repeat all of this. I’m doing it for both of us.

I’m really pleased, Secretary, to welcome you and your delegation to our beautiful country and to the department of international relations and cooperation. You’ll remember that in our many conversations, we’ve discussed a possible visit by you several times, and I’m very happy that we’ve achieved our agreed objective.

I also wish to welcome Ambassador-Designate Reuben Brigety II. I am glad, Ambassador, that you’re able to observe this meeting and visit. I hope our deliberations today will set the tone for your tenure in South Africa, and I wish you a productive and enjoyable term as U.S. ambassador to South Africa. It will be enjoyable as long as you don’t tweet about me. I hope you will contribute to strengthening the already strong links between South Africa and the United States of America.

Mr. Secretary, the United States is one of South Africa’s most valued partners. I appreciate the commitment you have shown to expanding our bilateral relations. The bonds that were forged between the United States and South Africa during our struggle for democracy and racial justice in our country are enduring bonds and created a firm foundation for advancing people-to-people cooperation between the two countries, including in the spheres of education, cultural, and tourism exchanges.

We’ve established many positive initiatives since our freedom in 1994. Our areas of cooperation include trade and investment, technology transfer, education, health, environment, safety and security, institution building, and many other areas. Our country continues to be confronted by deep challenges linked to our Apartheid history and its legacy. They center on three main elements: inequality, poverty, and unemployment. These are challenges we have to address to avoid social strife.

Through the generous support of the Government of the United States of America and its people, we’ve been able to make progress in addressing many of the socioeconomic challenges faced by the majority in our country, be this in providing access to equal and quality education, decent housing, or basic health services to the most vulnerable in our society. We have seen support. Our bilateral cooperation is broad and deep and aligned to South Africa’s national priorities. We are determined as a nation and working hard to set our economy on a new trajectory of growth and development to satisfy our people’s desire for a better life.

I’m especially pleased at our scientific cooperation at the Square Kilometre Array site in Carnarvon, in the Northern Cape, where the United States has a very important HERA astronomy research initiative.

What stands out in particular in our journey was the timely and significant support given to South Africa and the region to address the original pandemic of HIV/AIDS through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR. This has indeed been a gamechanger, as it set the marker for the way we bilaterally as government and civil society came together to turn around the devastating impact of the HIV/AIDS scourge, which threatened to derail our development progress and set us back many decades. For me, our cooperation in HIV vaccine development stands out as our most significant medical sciences research initiative, with Professor Glenda Gray and Professor Shisana achieving outstanding results in collaboration with American research partners.

It’s clear, Mr. Secretary, that the United States Government makes a significant contribution to our own development efforts, as set out in our national development plan. These do assist us to address the triple challenges I referred to. South Africa is the largest United States trade partner in Africa. The significant presence of United States companies operating within our borders, including historic long-term investors such as General Electric and Ford to name just two, has helped to upskill our young people, create jobs, livelihoods, and has made the United States private sector a key partner in supporting South Africa’s socioeconomic growth.

More recently, the tremendous support shown by United States companies for President Ramaphosa’s investment drive has demonstrated our belief that the United States still has a future in our country, and an interest in our future and the value proposition that we offer as a key investment destination and trade partner. This is even in the context of the setback of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I’m really pleased to welcome the growth in two-way trade in goods, which has gone from 13.9 billion U.S. dollars in 2010 to 21 billion U.S. dollars in 2021. In 2021 the United States ranked as the second-largest destination for South Africa’s exports globally. South African firms have also become significant foreign investors. Investments from South Africa into the U.S. are also on the increase, with the U.S. accounting for 17.4 percent of total South African outward FDI to the world.

But we believe there’s much more we can and should do. As we discussed in our meeting of the 12th Annual Bilateral Forum this year, our objective should be to significantly expand two-way trade and investment, which will contribute to shared growth and prosperity of our people. A good start in this vein would be to speedily resolve the longstanding unresolved trade issues around market access, including the removal of Section 232 tariffs on South African steel and aluminium imports into the United States. We’ve discussed this on the phone previously.

South Africa is proud to count on the U.S. Government and its private sector as partners in our efforts directed at post-pandemic economic recovery. Our president and his economic team have been hard at work making it easier for foreign investors to invest in our country and to advance our trade and investment relations for mutual benefit. The support we received and continue to receive from the U.S. to combat COVID-19 and its effect, as well as America’s support for the WTO TRIPS waiver deliberations which have enabled South Africa and Africa to begin production of vaccines locally, is a tangible demonstration of the international solidarity we all need to overcome the global challenges of our time. I would like, through you, to thank President Biden for understanding this imperative and for his efforts to make Africa an equal partner in the global community’s plans to address the most pressing challenge of our time.

Secretary Blinken, as I’m sure you will say, our world is going through an extraordinarily difficult period. Many countries are having to contend with high costs for fuel, food, and transport, all of which are basic necessities. The current global economic environment, which is marked by rising inequality, by conflict, unequal technological advances, environmental degradation due to climate change, all have huge implications for food security and agricultural systems, particularly here in Africa where the pandemic has reversed the gains that have been made under the African Union socioeconomic development blueprint, Agenda 2063.

The present moment, which has given rise to widespread uncertainty and fear, requires us all as leaders to come together and chart a way forward that will give hope and inspiration to our respective peoples. We must ensure that the undertakings we make at the United Nations, the G7, and the G20, which include addressing food insecurity, global health, peace and security, sustainable and just energy transition, as well as human security, that all of these are meaningfully addressed. We must also reinforce our common commitment to multilateralism, democracy, and human rights, and use the proven tools of diplomacy, peacebuilding, dialogue, and mediation to resolve conflict and end the intolerable and unnecessary human suffering which results from wars and other forms of conflict.

Working together, we must identify a path to greater prosperity and human-centered development, which would improve local communities’ self-reliance, social justice, and inclusive decision making. We are keen to play a role in such an endeavor. This is informed by our own foreign policy principles, which are based on our value of ubuntu: I am, because you are.

I believe, Mr. Secretary, that our strategic partnership, which is based on common values and aspirations, is the foundation for our strengthening of bilateral relations between our two countries. Our gathering here for this Strategic Dialogue after a quiet period of almost seven years, as well as the arrival of Ambassador Brigety, presents an opportunity for us to reinvigorate our relations on the various fronts I have referred to. I believe we should place economic recovery for Africa at the front and center of our agenda. The implementation of the African Continental Free Trade agreement and the convening of the AGOA Forum in South Africa next year present both our governments, our private sectors, and civil society with numerous opportunities to advance our trade and investment relations.

We really hope that on our path to economic recovery we will ensure that both South Africa and the United States of America do not leave behind women, youth, and the disabled. I’m really thrilled by the continued support that President Biden has given to the Mandela Washington Fellowship through the Young African Leaders Initiative, and the good work that is being done by the United States-South Africa Higher Education Network, as well as support for our technical/vocational education and training institutions, which have formed exciting partnerships with community colleges in the United States. I also acknowledge support for training and capacity building for our law enforcement, defense, and security agencies, including in the important fight against wildlife trafficking.

I would like to conclude by conveying my sincere thanks and appreciation to your embassy in Pretoria under the able leadership of both Mr. Todd Haskell and Ms. Heather Merritt, who’ve worked very hard to support our efforts against COVID-19 and to ensure that we remain focused on our common goal to maintain and strengthen bilateral cooperation, even during such a challenging period. I’m looking forward to our discussion with our officials and our discussion later at lunch today. I believe that it is only through open and frank dialogue, through – on matters on which we do not share similar views that we could perhaps begin to understand each other’s positions, dispel misunderstandings, enhance our trust, and find solutions that will benefit both our countries and peoples.

I think I’m correct if I share with our colleagues that we have had very frank discussions where at times we don’t agree, but it’s not broken this friendship. In fact, it’s made it stronger. We look forward to participating in the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, which will be hosted by President Biden in December. And I also look forward to your talk this afternoon on the revised Africa strategy, and really wish to thank you for choosing our country to make this very important statement.

Mr. Secretary, once more, welcome to my country. Your visit is far too short for my liking, but I’m certain that it will be productive, and I look forward to seeing you again in our beautiful country in the future. Thank you very much, and I now invite you, Secretary Blinken, to make your opening remarks.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, good morning, everyone. And Foreign Minister Pandor, Naledi, thank you. Thank you for your remarkable hospitality, for the warmth of the greeting we’ve received, and yes, especially for the dialogue that we’ve had for many, many months on so many different issues, and we’re profoundly joined and connected in, I think, a basic outlook as two great constitutional democracies with a shared set of values. But to your point, we bring different perspectives on some issues, and I have to tell you, as a result of our many conversations, you’ve helped me rethink things and look at things in a different light. And I’m really grateful for that and, and it’s an ongoing conversation.

I think the fact that so many American policymakers have traveled to take part in this Strategic Dialogue – from the White House, from the State Department, from the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, from the Department of Health and Human Services, from bureaus in our departments dealing with economic growth, global health, policy planning. That, in and of itself, is a signal, evidence of the importance that we attach to the relationship with South Africa and the importance that South Africa has in our work at home and also around the world, and how committed we are to making the ties between us even stronger.

On one level, it’s simple. Given your economic heft, your leading global voice, your membership in the G20, your influence among the G-77 countries – and the critical role that South Africa plays on global health, on climate, on democracy, regional security, and so much else – what South Africa says, what South Africa does has powerful global implications.

And that makes this Strategic Dialogue a vital forum, marking a serious commitment by both of our governments to this bilateral relationship and to the work we’re doing together not only between us, but regionally and globally. And as we’re going to get briefed in a moment on some of the work of the Strategic Dialogue, I think it’s fair to say that the breadth and depth of the topics covered here today reflect the scope of our shared priorities. You said it very well and powerfully; we’re dealing – both of us – with an incredibly challenging time. The world faces threats from disease, from climate change, from food insecurity, from violence. What we can achieve together as two leading democracies I think is even more urgent, and that’s also why so many colleagues are here and so invested in this process.

So I’m very much looking forward to hearing from our teams about, particularly, the focus areas set out by Presidents Ramaphosa and Biden when they spoke a few months ago: health, climate, trade and investment, infrastructure. These are critical areas of both of our countries, and our teams have done important work in advancing our work in each of these areas.

Let me just say very quickly, even before we hear from them, I think on health we have reaffirmed the longstanding partnership through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR. I have to say this is something, as an American, I am proudest of over the last 25 or 30 years. It’s hard to think of a more significant initiative that has saved more lives, changed more lives than PEPFAR: 21 million lives saved over nearly 20 years. And we continue to work toward epidemic control of HIV and TB and an AIDS-free generation.

Our work on HIV/AIDS and TB has given us a strong foundation to collaborate effectively on COVID-19 and other emerging health threats. So we’ll keep working together – including under the COVID-19 Global Action Plan – on this pandemic, but critically, and as you said, to try to strengthen global health security going forward and more broadly, because even as we get through this pandemic we know that there will be others lurking, and if we don’t learn the lessons and act on the lessons from this pandemic and create a stronger global health system, then, really, bad on us. So we’re both committed to doing that together.

And I especially want to thank South Africa and its world-class scientists for your role in identifying the Omicron variant and immediately, immediately alerting the world. It’s no wonder that you’re becoming a hub of vaccine development to help Africa generate its own production and to help the world prepare, as necessary, for the next pandemic.

On climate and energy, very much look forward to hearing the details of how today’s discussion advanced our robust joint efforts. Energy access and production are critical to South Africa’s future – while at the same time, both our nations have been affected by the ravages of the climate crisis. We’re feeling it, you’re feeling it, every single day. And part of the challenge over many years in dealing with climate is it always seemed to be: well, yes, it’s a problem but it’s tomorrow’s problem. No longer the case – it’s today’s problem. And I think we all feel the fierce urgency of now when it comes to dealing with climate. We see that just in the recent floods in Durban and in Kentucky.

So we know that to preserve our planet and protect our citizens, we have to find a way to an energy transition that allows us to meet those goals while supporting those who have been most affected by the climate crisis. The United States and other partners are committed to a Just Energy Transition Partnership with public-private investments in renewable energy and in supporting South Africa’s transition to a low-carbon economy.

Infrastructure: South Africa is so well-positioned to lead development of transportation and digital infrastructure throughout the region. We’re looking for ways that the G7’s Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, announced by the G7 leaders at President Biden’s initiative just a couple of months ago, can support these goals through access to financing, project preparation, and facilitating partnerships with the private sector.

And on trade, Naledi, as you’ve said, we have a vital economic relationship. And it is very encouraging that even with COVID, trade and investment between South Africa and the United States reached, as you said, a record $21 billion last year. But we know that we can make something good even better. As South Africa’s second-largest trade partner, we’re committed to continuing this robust, dynamic, and mutually beneficial partnership.

Today was not the culmination of our partnership, but I think the start of a new chapter. President Biden is very much looking forward to welcoming President Ramaphosa to Washington next month. And in December, we’re incredibly excited to be hosting the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, picking up something that President Obama started, and we welcome South Africa’s input on making that summit a success.

We have between us a long history of cooperation, from regional peace and security to promoting democracy and global health, to shaping our technological and economic futures. And our shared values and interests extend beyond our two governments. They’re woven through the fabric of our societies through partnerships between our private sectors, exchanges between our cultural and educational institutions, and especially, ties of friendship and family among our people, especially our young people.

So to conclude and say simply as we hear from our colleagues, my team and I very much look forward to continuing to work closely with you to overcome the challenges that we both have to face, to engage frankly and meaningfully on issues where our views might differ, and to chart a course toward a promising future that will benefit the people of both South Africa and the United States, and I think beyond.

So thank you again for today, thank you for the (inaudible), and thank you for the invitation to come back. We’re going to take you up on that. Thank you.

More from: Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

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