Trump’s latest snub of South Africa will hurt locals – and more pain could be coming, warns a trade expert

The US government has lumped South Africa together with China, its arch trade nemesis, in the latest battle of its global trade war.

Recently, president Donald Trump slapped import duties of 10% on all aluminium imports and 25% on steel. Countries – including South Africa – furiously lobbied the US government to be granted exemptions.

Trudi Harzenberg, executive director of the Stellenbosch-based Trade Law Centre (tralac), says there was a lot of behind-the-scenes canvassing. Australia reportedly even used the sporting great Greg Norman to court the golf-mad Trump.

It paid off for Australia, and others. But South Africa, along with China, India and Russia, will have to pay the duties.

Previously, because of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), South African aluminium exporters had duty-free access to the US market. AGOA was launched under then president Bill Clinton in 2000, and South African exporters – particularly car manufacturers – have reaped enormous benefit over the years. Some 6,700 SA export products are exempted from duties.

But the latest move from the US is a further indication that AGOA may not be renewed in 2025, says Hartzenberg.

For its part, the dti said that US duties “are implemented in a way that contravenes some of the key WTO principles”.

“South Africa finds itself as collateral damage in the trade war of key global economies. South Africa is concerned by the unfairness of the measures and that it is one of the countries that are singled out as a contributor to US national security concerns when its exports of aluminium and steel products are not that significant,” it added.