Visit from South African Consul Shares Sister State Ties and Push for Economic Development

Renewing and furthering South Africa’s trade and investment relationship with California was the emphasis when Consul Talifhani Mbelengwa from the Consulate General of South Africa in Los Angeles stopped by the California Chamber of Commerce this week.

The South African Consulate General in Los Angeles represents the 13 western states of the United States. South Africa has four consular offices in the United States, including the embassy in Washington, D.C.

Consul Mbelengwa’s September 26 visit was pleasant and informative as he discussed the current activities and goals of new South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was elected in February.

U.N. General Assembly

President Ramaphosa led the South African delegation to participate this week in the United Nations General Assembly. On September 24, the day before the start of the General Debate, a statue of Nelson Mandela was unveiled during the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit to commemorate the centennial of Mandela’s birth.

In President Ramaphosa’s inaugural address to the General Assembly, he spoke of his foreign policy goals and priorities, including fostering economic development, greater stability and transforming the South African economy. Also while in New York, President Ramaphosa met with CEOs from major global companies as part of a drive to attract foreign direct investment to foster economic development in South Africa.

This is part of the build-up to South Africa’s International Investment Conference on October 26 and 27. The purpose of the conference is to begin an investment-drive program with the goal of bringing $100 billion of investment into the South African economy over the next five years.

The centennial of Mandela’s birth, officially on July 18, has been a year-long celebration in South Africa. To honor Mandela, the national government, industries of South Africa, and the Nelson Mandela Foundation, among others, have hosted a number of events. The theme for the celebration is “be the legacy,” which serves as a reminder to stay true to Mandela’s ideals, including his unwavering commitment to justice, equality and a nonracial South Africa.

Sister State Ties

California and the Western Cape Province of South Africa share a sister state connection dating back to 2000 when the California State Senate passed a resolution. The resolution describes the many geographic and cultural similarities between California and the province. The sister state resolution demonstrates the two regions’ commitment to the development of social, economic and cultural exchanges to strengthen economic ties and improve goodwill.

Trade with South Africa

South Africa is the 42nd largest export destination for the United States, with exports more than doubling over the last decade. In 2016, two-way trade between South Africa and the United States was approximately $12.75 billion.

As South Africa’s second largest export partner, the United States exported $5 billion to South Africa in 2017. Non-electrical machinery accounted for 19.4% of exports, followed by transportation equipment (15.9%), chemicals (14.8%), and computer and electronic products (7.8%), which comprised the majority of South Africa’s total imports from the United States. In 2017, the United States imported $7.75 billion from South Africa, 47.5% of that being primary metals.

In 2017, California exported more than $318 million to South Africa, making it the state’s 44th largest export destination. Computers and electronic equipment accounted for 27.5% of this total. (U.S. Department of Commerce)

Foreign Direct Investment

According to the most recent figures, in 2017, South Africa invested $4 billion into the U.S. economy while the United States invested $7.3 billion into South Africa (Bureau of Economic Analysis). South African foreign direct investment (FDI) in the United States contributed to 5,800 jobs and $1 billion to expanded U.S. exports. The top industry sectors for South African FDI were: software and information technology (IT) services, chemicals, communications, coal oil and natural gas, consumer products, and financial services. (Select USA)

The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), signed into law in May 2000, offers tangible incentives for African countries to continue efforts to open their economies and build free markets.

CalChamber Position

The CalChamber believes that it is in the mutual economic interest of the United States and sub-Saharan Africa to promote stable and sustainable economic growth and development in sub-Saharan Africa and that this growth depends in large measure upon the development of a receptive environment for trade and investment.

The CalChamber is supportive of the United States seeking to facilitate market-led economic growth in, and thereby the social and economic development of, the countries of sub-Saharan Africa. In particular, the CalChamber is supportive of the United States seeking to assist sub-Saharan African countries, and the private sector in those countries, to achieve economic self-reliance.

Staff Contact: Susanne T. Stirling 

Susanne T. Stirling, vice president, international affairs, has headed CalChamber international activities for more than four decades. She is an appointee of the U.S. Secretary of Commerce to the National Export Council, and serves on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce International Policy Committee, the California International Relations Foundation, and the Chile-California Council. Originally from Denmark, she studied at the University of Copenhagen and holds a B.A. in international relations from the University of the Pacific, where she served as a regent from 2012 to 2021. She earned an M.A. from the School of International Relations at the University of Southern California. See full bio.