South Africa is currently the 39th largest trading partner of the United States while Pretoria runs a comparatively small trade surplus of $2.2 billion with the US. Donald Trump has already put substantial tariffs and/or sanctions on far larger trading partners of the US. With the full scale trade war with China continuing to escalate, with the US now threatening at 25% tariff on all cars manufactured in the European Union, with Canada and Mexico still trying to save NAFTA, with full-scale Iran sanctions set be in force in November and with looming further tariff and sanction threats against NATO ally Turkey on the horizon, the Trump administration is already playing rough with trading partners that are far more significant to the US than South Africa.
But what has South Africa done to directly upset the United States? The short answer is that this seemingly obvious question is the wrong one. It remains clear that the current administration in Washington does not require any sound reason to implement tariffs and sanctions as its use of sanctions is not “corrective” in the traditional sense nor are the use of tariffs about redressing minor trade imbalances. Instead, both tariffs and sanctions are used by the Trump administration as a tool to help and strengthen the internal US position by forcing developing nations into an inflationary debt spiral at a time when the US Dollar goes from strength to strength. A full report on this particular phenomenon can be read here.
In the particular case of South Africa, one has just witnessed the first sign that something in terms of sanctions or tariffs might be heading Pretoria’s way. With few exceptions, Donald Trump tends to offer a prelude to official tariff or sanctions announcements by openly criticising a partner nation’s policies on Twitter.
Regarding South Africa, Trump has stated that he has asked the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to investigate the current government policy in South Africa to seize farmland owned by white Afrikaners in order to redistribute the land to black ownership.
I have asked Secretary of State @SecPompeo to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers. “South African Government is now seizing land from white farmers.” @TuckerCarlson @FoxNews
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 23, 2018
Quite unlike the case of Andrew Brunson, the US national accused of terrorism related offences in Turkey – a story that has failed to capture the imagination of Trump’s domestic base, the South African farmland issue has galvanised many of Trump’s most outspoken supporters. The popular American radio host Michael Savage who has met with Trump on several occasions sine he took office dedicated an entire programme to the issue while referring to a “genocide” of white farmers.
Therefore, all of the ducks are in line regarding a possible US instigated trade war on South Africa. These include:
–Running a trade surplus with the US.
–Growing ever closer to China both through joint BRICS membership and through new Chinese initiatives aimed at Africa as a whole in the context of the expanding the One Belt–One Rod initiative.
–Being an exporter of agricultural products to the US at a time when Trump is providing stimulus to the domestic agricultural industry after losing many of its valuable Chinese customers due to the trade war with Beijing.
–Conducting a domestic policy that is incredibly unpopular with Trump’s core supporters.
And then there is an added element of Russia. Thus far, the nation that has been most responsive to Afrikaner requests for what amounts to asylum is Russia. This is the case because in Russia Afrikaners can receive what amounts to asylum in Russia without it being called asylum. In President Vladimir Putin’s previous Presidential term, Moscow introduced policies where vast plots of empty farmland throughout Russia would be given away for free to whom ever would work the land and turn it into a profitable working farm. Crucially, this “land for productivity” programme was open to both Russians and foreigners.
This has allowed Russia to extend a hand to white South Africans without offending its close historical partner, the ANC government in Pretoria which remains infuriated at the suggestion there is anything inhumane about its land reform programme.
For a highly competitive man like Donald Trump, it would appear that Russia’s programme is seen as direct competition as now he appears to be on the verge of acting as the rescuer of white South Africans desperate to start a new life abroad. One cannot underestimate the fact that he would not want to be “outdone” by Russia, given that the very idea of Russia has come to haunt his Presidency. While Russia’s elegant solution of welcoming those who will work for free land, some of whom “just happen” to be Afrikaners has allowed Moscow and Pretoria to retain good relations, South Africa’s President has already voiced a complaint to the US in respect of Trump’s Tweet.
According to the Spokeswoman of President Cyril Ramaphosa,
“The presidency has noted Trump’s tweet, which is misinformed in our view. We will take up the matter through diplomatic channels”.
Thus, unlike with Russia, the US has already aroused anger with Pretoria. The only question is: does Donald Trump care? The answer that many in Pretoria may not want to hear is that since Trump doesn’t seem to care what China, Russia, Japan, Korea, Germany, India, France, Canada or Mexico think, he probably doesn’t care what South Africa thinks either. Because of this, South Africa whose Rand has already been hit hard by US speculation against the Turkish Lira should take preemptive steps to further diversify its export markets as sanctions and/or tariffs may be on their way.