Trade between South Africa and the US remains robust and there is room and opportunity to expand trade between the two countries going forward.
This is the view of American consul-general Virginia Blaser, who took up the post in Cape Town in August.
Blaser made her remarks during a brief interview with The Herald yesterday during the second day of a whirlwind visit to the Eastern Cape and Port Elizabeth – her first to the region.
Holding wide experience of the African continent, Blaser previously served her country for more than a decade as a three-time deputy chief of mission and charge d’affaires in Uganda, Tanzania, Mauritius and the Seychelles.
Since joining the US Foreign Service in 1989, Blaser has also served in European capitals, in Central America and Washington.
Following a number of engagements in Nelson Mandela Bay – which included meetings with the municipal leadership, alumni of US government-sponsored exchange programmes and recipients of US government support – Blaser will visit East London.
Among other engagements there, she will visit a literacy initiative and a workshop on the Buffalo City Low Emissions Development Roadmap supported by the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
Blaser, who is the highest-ranking US official to visit Port Elizabeth since President Donald Trump took office, said there were about 600 American companies operating in South Africa.
While there was room for trade expansion, the country sought trading partners around the world that demonstrated transparency, no corruption and a welcoming business environment with ease of doing business.
Acknowledging the close ties of her country and the Sundays River Valley to the citrus export industry, she noted the big potential for closer cooperation between the two countries, particularly in the agri-processing sector.
With a significant portion of the region’s citrus already being exported to the US, particularly when America’s own citrus industry is out of season, increasing focus is being placed on the greater Nelson Mandela Bay region’s growing potential as an agri-processing hub and with a specific focus on the export market.
This is based on access to two ports in the Bay, its proximity to the agricultural industry and access to infrastructure and benefits such as those offered by the Coega Special Economic Zone.
Blaser reinforced international acknowledgement of South Africa as the economic gateway to the continent.
“South Africa is certainly very well positioned as the gateway to the continent, but the Cape [and Cape Town] must certainly be the actual gateway.
“That area is endowed with skills, intellectuals, drive and the business infrastructure and environment to fulfil this role.”
Blaser said the US would continue to play a significant role in addressing the country’s challenges in the education and health sectors and would continue to plough funds into its programmes addressing early childhood development, and in the health sector, particularly around HIV and Aids.