South Africa’s renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) with the United States (US) a few months ago seemed to be about local poultry, when in fact negotiations were about a wider range of exports from 39 predominantly sub-Saharan African countries.
All had to meet the criteria of good governance, sound democratic values and protection of property rights. Countries such as Zimbabwe and Swaziland did not make the cut. It also did not go unnoticed that sub-Saharan Africa accounts for around $1.6 trillion of Africa’s $2.4 trillion GDP. AGOA therefore gives the US economic reach into countries where it would ordinarily have no influence.
AGOA is not a gift. As South Africa discovered, its economic strength on the continent does not guarantee its AGOA membership, and the accompanying eligibility to trade at preferential rates with the US. If South Africa did not loosen its stance on the anti-dumping tariffs imposed on chicken imports from the US, it would feel the costs in more lucrative areas, such as motor vehicles and parts, and wine and citrus exports. In the end, South Africa agreed to take 65,000 tons of bone-in chicken imports per annum, free of anti-dumping duties, from the US. Concessions could, however, have been as high as 300,000 tons, threatening an industry in which almost a billion chickens are slaughtered each year for local consumption.
The arrival of 16,000 tons of US chicken, a few weeks ahead of the deadline in mid-March this year, allowed South Africa to retain its preferential access to the world’s biggest market, and benefit from the latest version of AGOA, which was extended until 2025.
The arm wrestle between the US and South Africa may have been prompted by pressures the Americans were facing elsewhere. The dollar was strong at the time and the US needed to find export markets for its chicken. There was also the issue of a trade war looming with its neighbors, Mexico and Canada, over meat-labeling legislation, where the World Trade Organization ruled in favor of these countries being allowed to retaliate with $1 billion in punitive tariffs.
Another plausible reason was Russia imposing its own sanctions on the US in retaliation for economic sanctions it suffered while attempting to Balkanize the Ukraine. With threats to its industry coming in fast and furiously, pressuring South Africa to make the concessions must have seemed an easy option.
With the focus on what concessions the South African poultry industry had to make, it was easy to lose sight of the shortcomings in South Africa’s domestic trade policy. The concessions shed light on the lackluster performance of the manufacturing sector, caused by the political economy tilting left, protectionist trade policy, restrictive regulation, and labor disruption.
The pending Private Security Bill on the local security industry, which could see 51% of US-based companies, like Chubb, G4S and ADT, sold to South African participants, was also a worry, as were plans to limit foreign ownership of property. While the knee-jerk response may have been to assume that greater local ownership translated to black economic empowerment, a more significant interpretation is that no private foreign entity has an equity interest in South Africa’s state defense and protection services, and by extension, neither should they have controlling equity interest in private security establishments.
Land restitution may also fall short of AGOA legislation. The still-to-be promulgated Regulation of Land Holdings Bill will not affect foreign ownership of residential property, but will prohibit ownership of agricultural land, which could instead be leased for between 30 and 50 years. A ceiling on land ownership would be set at 12,000 hectares, regardless of nationality.
The potential overhaul of intellectual property laws, which could impact the pharmaceutical industry, is also concerning. While it makes socio-economic sense to roll out cheap generic drugs to as many South Africans as possible, foreign-owned multi-nationals may see this as an infringement of patents on their own more expensive medication.
Although the controversy surrounding the chicken industry seems to have settled, South Africa is still vulnerable to the vagaries in US trade policy. Should the US feel aggrieved by any of its preferential offerings, they may be withdrawn much quicker than what was allowed under the older version of the agreement. South African policymakers should be more cautious when making decisions, especially those that affect US interests.
Cryptocurrency for Africans
George Gordon is on a quest to revolutionize the financial system. The director of Africa Master Blockchain Company talks digital currencies, blind risks and board games.
What is this new African cryptocurrency you are offering?
Where the majority of current digital currencies are based on speculative models, AfriUnion Coin (AUC) and the AfriNational Tokens (ANT)are designed for a transactional purpose allowing international payments, remittances, foreign direct investment as well as day-to-day transactions at local retail stores and other outlets. While the option for speculative trade is available with AUC, the focus is not around that.
Each African country will have a specially-designed ANT which will allow users to pay for goods and services and bills easily through completely digital means without requiring any bank account. AUC and ANT will be fully interchangeable to one another and there will be no fees for the user.
It’s the natural next step for digital finance from mobile banking which most Africans are accustomed to. The ability to freely have the power to send and receive money locally and internationally will allow the freedom of choice and spending power many Africans don’t have currently.
What is your own investment philosophy?
I am a gambler! I believe in taking risks and putting things on the line. That being said, blind risk or whimsical guesses don’t get you very far. Always acquire enough information to understand to a reasonable level what the thing you are planning on investing is or how it works and then trust your instinct and gut feel.
What advice would you give entrepreneurs wanting to invest in blockchain?
First, do some research in terms of what the blockchain technology is being applied for or created in terms of its application to an industry or project. Thereafter, check the white paper for the design of the platform as well as its functionality and applicability to what it is trying to achieve. If it aligns with your personal investment rules, then go for it,however, remember that blockchain is continuously evolving and thus you need to explore outside the usual and standard.
First cash-less, now card-less. What is the future of online banking?
If we are looking into what is currently science fiction, I would say the future is digital contact lenses that will be able to connect you to all your social media accounts, internet, news as well as make payments by just looking at QR codes or specialized barcodes to approve and accept payments.
Now, realistically we are not far off from such innovation and technology, but for the time being, I think the next step is scanning of QR codes at retailers and having the transaction automated from your wallet to the retailers digitally.
What is your most prized investment and why?
My mind. I believe that the work I have put into developing my mind, and continue to do so every day, is the number one investment that I have ever done. It allows me to look at things in a unique perspective as well as provides me with the tools to push boundaries and create new opportunities.
Money, success, fame? Which is most important to you?
I would have to say success… because it is most likely going to bring the other two as well, right? But success in the form of starting something and letting it grow and succeed and knowing that something new exists because of your efforts.
What do you spend your money on mostly?
Board games. I love board games and believe it’s a fantastic way to expand your mind as well as have fun with friends.
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King Price Insurance’s CEO Gideon Galloway, who built an insurance company in South Africa worth over $226 million in six years, talks investments, industry trends and how self-driving cars will change the entire car insurance landscape.
Offering The American Dream
Gar Lippincott and Daniel Ryan of Atlantic American Partners were in South Africa recently looking for high-net-worth individuals wanting to invest in the US.
It’s a warm spring day in September, and Gar Lippincott and Daniel Ryan have just arrived in South Africa. It is Lippincott’s first time in the country, and he is jet-lagged.
A little over two months ago, he was booked to fly here from the United States (US) but was turned back at immigration.
“At Atlanta airport, the lady looked at Daniel’s visa and let him through and she looked at my visa and she said ‘I am afraid you can’t get on the plane because you have to have a blank page on your passport’. I said ‘I have three blank pages’ and she said ‘no, it’s supposed to be the one that says visa on it’. She said it’s the rules in South Africa so I had to sadly go back home… now when I was coming, I was told that’s not an issue anymore so I am happy they have made traveling into the country easier,” says Lippincott.
With a brand-new passport, he’s here with Ryan looking for people who want to invest in the US in exchange for a green card.
Lippincott, the Managing Partner of Atlantic American Partners, says he has always been keen on South Africa for its growth opportunities and prospects.
“From what I understand, the things that are causing short-term decline in the economy in South Africa are set up to provide long-term growth and hopefully people will understand this,” he says. Ryan, the company’s Managing Director of Emerging Markets – Africa, agrees: “I lived in Malawi for 12 years and South Africa is still considered the shining one throughout the continent. Even with all the problems, everyone still wants to come here because of the opportunities.”
According to an AfrAsia Bank report, South Africa comes second to Mauritius in boasting the highest number of high-net-worth individuals.
These are the kind of people Ryan and Lippincott target through their work at Atlantic American Partners. The company has real estate investors and professional private equity fund managers that manage money for banks, insurance companies, and pension funds. In addition, they help people get US green cards and ultimately US citizenship through the US government’s EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program.
“Basically we look for people who want to move to the United States and we help them do so legally by investing and the nice thing is, with our program, they are also able to get a nice return on investment,” he says.
According to Lippincott, for a $500,000 investment that creates 10 jobs for American workers, you could get a green card in about two years and be a US citizen in about six or seven years. “Twenty seven countries have an investor visa program but with most of them, it’s essentially a fee you pay, or you need to be actively engaged in the day-to-day operation of a business. For example, you invest $1.5 million in Australia, but you need to hire employees and generate a certain amount of revenue. One of the biggest advantages with our program is you actually invest the $500,000 into a fund. We act as a trustee of that money and within five to seven years, they get that money back with a bit of return on investment and you are a permanent citizen in the US.”
Atlantic American Partners invests the money in real estate developments like hotels, apartments and student accommodation.
“What’s nice about the program is it doesn’t only cover the investor; it covers the spouse and children under 21. Our biggest family was a Hungarian family with seven children so they got nine green cards for $500,000,” says Lippincott.
The company says it has had positive response in South Africa. “Two months ago, we were here and we had scheduled six presentations for 100 people and we ended up speaking to 450 people. Most were business people, people worried about the economy, people worried about the political future of South Africa and people concerned about the education future of their children,” says Ryan.
According to Lippincott, despite the news of the clampdown on immigration, the US economy is booming and will perish without immigration. In the era of Donald Trump and his anti-immigrant views, that’s heartening news indeed.
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