Joint Media Statement: 13th South Africa-United States Annual Bilateral Forum (ABF)

Media Statement


30 September 2023


Joint Media Statement: 13th South Africa-United States Annual Bilateral Forum (ABF)


The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) hosted the 13th Annual Bilateral Forum (ABF) on 15 September 2023. The ABF co-chairs were Ambassador Maud Dlomo, Deputy Director-General: Americas and Europe at DIRCO, and Dr Reuben E. Brigety II, the United States Ambassador to the Republic of South Africa. The last ABF took place in Pretoria on 22 February 2022.


The ABF is a key component of the Strategic Partnership between South Africa and the United States with the objective to review the implementation of the numerous ongoing cooperation programs and projects between the two nations, which are aligned to the United States Strategy toward Sub-Saharan Africa, and South Africa’s National Development Plan (NDP) to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality by 2030.


The Mega Assistance Agreement (MAA) between the Government of South Africa and the United States of America, through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID): Southern Africa, entered into force in September 2018. The value of this 8-year Agreement was estimated at approximately $3.357 billion over eight years.  Since the last ABF, USAID obligated an additional $455 million, bringing the total obligated amount to $1.880 billion.


Senior officials from the United States Mission and their counterparts from the relevant South African Government Departments made recommendations for continued and improved cooperation that advances the interests of both nations. The discussions within the eight Working Groups focused on current and future bilateral cooperation in areas such as economics, development, safety and security, transport, science, technology and innovation, environment, customs and border control, education, and protocol. The senior officials acknowledged the achievements made in some areas and undertook to continue working jointly to resolve outstanding matters to further strengthen the robust sectoral cooperation.


The Governments from the United States and the Republic of South Africa reaffirmed their commitment to further strengthening a robust trade relationship, which until now had been largely limited to preferential access to the U.S. market through the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). In 2022, the U.S. ranked as the 2nd largest destination for South Africa’s exports globally. It was noted that two-way trade in goods between the two countries grew from $13.9 billion in 2010 to a peak of $21.1 billion in 2022. Both parties acknowledged the importance of AGOA for development in sub-Saharan Africa and agreed on the need for AGOA to be integrated into the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). South Africa expressed its desire for early renewal before AGOA lapses in 2025 and looked forward to hosting the AGOA Forum in November 2023.


The participants discussed continued work to address identified market access issues affecting the bilateral trade, exploring opportunities in the digital area including through the Digital Transformation with Africa Initiative as well as continue discussions on development in the electric motor vehicles sector. The participants also agreed to establish the Joint Trade and Investment Council (JTIC) that President Ramaphosa proposed to President Biden in 2022. Regarding cooperation in agriculture, the participants discussed long-standing market access requests for numerous plant and animal products that need to be resolved. Both the United States and South Africa will review prior commitments and avail high-level officials to engage on entrenched barriers. The participants discussed concrete steps to address the respective concerns to promote reciprocity in agricultural trade.


With regard to Health Partnerships, both sides agreed to establish a Bilateral Health Forum under the auspices of the existing Memorandum of Understanding on bilateral health cooperation. The participants also discussed how to collaborate to improve global health architecture and global health security. With regard to health development, the parties have a strategic partnership on a broad range of health collaborations, including programs, partnerships, and other collaborations in areas such as HIV, tuberculosis (TB), sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) respiratory diseases, mental health, genomic research, capacity building, disease surveillance, laboratory enhancements, antimicrobial resistance, research, and food security, amongst others. PEPFAR continues to support the Government of South Africa across the treatment cascade, with a special focus on the more than 5.7 million people living with HIV currently on treatment and further reducing the gap needed to achieve the UNAIDS 95-95-95 targets.


On Safety and Security, the participants agreed to improve two-way information exchanges in criminal investigations and intelligence related to law enforcement. The United States hopes to enhance opportunities for South African participation in capacity building programs that combat gender-based violence, wildlife trafficking, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.


The Science, Technology and Innovation cooperation between South Africa and the United States span a wide range of areas of mutual interests, including in the space sciences, astronomy, energy, bioeconomy, natural medicines (indigenous knowledge), health sciences, ICTs including AI, quantum computing, and emerging technologies. The support to university cooperation will also be strengthened as a source of strong science, research and innovation cooperation between the two countries. Critical skills development in science, technology and innovation areas will continue to be the cornerstone of increased cooperation through relations instruments like the YALI and Fulbright scholarships that celebrate excellence in youth development in science, technology, and innovation. The two countries acknowledged the work of the water and energy for food (WE4F) program which also includes other partners like the EU, BMZ, SIDA, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands and USAID. The United States is currently supporting mRNA vaccine manufacturing capacity in South Africa and assisting in workforce development and regulatory strengthening. Other significant partnerships include the Ensemble and Sisonke Trials which investigate the efficacy of the J&J COVID-19 vaccine; the COVID-19 Vaccine Trial (Ubuntu) to study the efficacy of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines in People Living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa. The participants also committed to deepening bilateral space and astronomy cooperation and to holding a Joint Committee Meeting for strategic discussions on science and technology cooperation in 2024.


The parties welcomed the robust cooperation in higher and basic education, including the University Partnership Initiative which has led to an increase on collaboration activities between South African and United States universities to enhance global knowledge production, as well as collaboration on Early Childhood Development and programs on improving literacy. South Africa acknowledged the scholarships and training opportunities offered by the U.S. Government to strengthen human capital and skills development, and the positive impact for South African students enrolled at U.S. institutions of higher learning. The South African side looked forward to the finalisation of the Memorandum of Understanding which will allow for the linking of the Peace Corps programmes with the Dept. of Basic Education’s Presidential Youth Employment Initiative, while the Dept. of Higher Education is keen to pursue strengthened cooperation with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).


The two sides appreciated the ongoing cooperation on Customs and Border Protection aimed at enhancing border interdiction, security, and trade compliance capabilities, including various capacity-building and benchmarking initiatives. South Africa and the United States look forward to the conclusion of the Mutual Recognition Arrangement to recognise the Authorised Economic Operator Programmes of both countries with the aim of enhancing trade facilitation.


Regarding environmental cooperation, the parties noted the active engagement on several programmes, including on conservation and combatting wildlife crime, climate change and trans-boundary water management. They welcomed the launch of the Comprehensive National Water Management Strategy in early September and looked forwarded to finalising new programs focusing on wildlife crime and water and waste management.


Both the United States and South Africa look forward to the 14th Annual Bilateral Forum to be hosted by the US Embassy in 2024.


30 September 2023




OR Tambo Building

460 Soutpansberg Road