Remarks for South Africa Freedom Day

David H. Thorne
Senior Advisor to the Secretary 
Embassy of the United States
Pretoria, South Africa
April 30, 2015

As prepared

On behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States, I extend heartfelt congratulations to you and all the people of the Republic of South Africa as you celebrate your Freedom Day.

I appreciate the gracious invitation to be your Guest of Honor this year.

Ambassador Mahlangu, members of the diplomatic corps, distinguished guests, and in the words of our South African colleagues, all protocols observed.

As we celebrate with you today, we reflect back 21 years to that historic election on April 27, 1994, one filled with tremendous hope, goodwill, and promise for a better future.

It is with an eye to that future – a shared, bright future – that we work together to strengthen the relationship between our nations. It is a relationship built on the shared values of democracy, justice, equality, and the fundamental rights of all people.

Our partnership is strong and spans a wide breadth of shared priorities. We share goals of expanding economic prosperity--especially within Africa--enhancing peace and security, and strengthening democracy and opportunities for all. South Africa continues to play a pivotal role in achieving and maintaining peace, stability, and security across Africa and globally.

We are proud of our collaboration on health issues, and have invested nearly $5 billion to fight HIV/AIDS under the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, in South Africa. The success of the program ultimately lies in its sustainability; in the coming years, South Africa will be the first country in Africa to fully manage its HIV/AIDS care and treatment program.

The United States and South Africa enjoy a robust economic relationship, with over $21 billion in two-way trade annually and more than 600 American companies operating in South Africa, employing thousands of South African citizens. We are excited to see SASOL, a South African energy company, begin a major investment in the state of Louisiana. This demonstrates the maturity of our economic relationship, and we look forward to more South African firms investing in the United States just as U.S. companies have invested in South Africa.

It is not only the large companies that fuel our economies, but in fact it is the small and medium-sized enterprises that drive growth and provide jobs. It is as true in the United States as it is in South Africa.

We have shown our determination to usher in a new era of shared prosperity in Africa through our most generous unilateral trade preference program, the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

We are very happy that South Africa has been a leader in taking advantage of AGOA, with automobile makers, fruit farmers, and wine producers directly benefitting from increased exports to the United States. In 2014, exports to the United States totaled $8.3 billion, none of which paid duties thanks to the preferential treatment afforded by the United States, making your products more competitive and creating thousands of jobs for South Africans.

But, as we have seen recently in the U.S. Congress, there is a clear sense that we need to look beyond AGOA to a more reciprocal and balanced trade relationship. South Africa has recently taken this step with Europe, and it is time for South Africa to move forward with the United States.

President Obama has stressed the need to develop a real partnership with Africa, and we look to South Africa to be a leader here, as you have been under AGOA.

We are also very interested in helping South Africa create the best possible investment climate that will attract the foreign investment it needs to achieve its development goals. Breaking down barriers to trade and investment can clearly benefit both of our nations.

American firms already generate roughly ten percent of South Africa’s GDP every year, and we see significant potential to increase that contribution, creating the same kind of shared prosperity that SASOL’s investment in Louisiana represents.

As we deepen economic ties and proactively plan for life beyond AGOA with Africa as a whole, we hope South Africa will remain one of the countries leading the continent’s economic growth and we encourage additional U.S. investment and the jobs, training, and economic freedom that such investment generates. We will continue to stand alongside you, learn with you, and partner with you.

We are committed to continuing to deepen the U.S.-South Africa partnership to usher in a bright future, one where prosperity and opportunity abound. We also want to continue to partner with you to amplify messages of tolerance and inclusivity.

Mr. Ambassador, it is my great pleasure to convey Secretary Kerry’s congratulations to you on your celebration of Freedom Day. We look forward to continuing to work together to further strengthen and expand our bilateral relationship.

Thank you very much for your invitation and allowing me to celebrate this very special day with you.