Partnership brings shared prosperity, opportunities

Cape Times | 29 Mar 2021 | Will Stevens, acting U.S. Consul General in Cape Town

As we mark the anniversary of the first Covid-19 case in South Africa and the subsequent lockdown measures, March 2021 is an important time to reflect on the challenges we’ve confronted together during the past 12 months.

The American people are proud to have contributed to the Covid-19 response in the Western Cape and City of Cape Town.

We donated oxygen therapy equipment and personal protective equipment; deployed epidemiologists to boost virus surveillance; helped local seamstresses produce cloth masks; installed hand-washing stations near schools; and supported a communications campaign that simultaneously shared facts about Covid-19 early in the pandemic and offered free wi-fi to Cape Flats residents.

Assistance to the health sector must not, however, be our only response to Covid-19. As the top foreign direct investor in the Western Cape and one of the province’s leading trading partners, the US must play a key role in the economic recovery. That is why, in February 2021, I was delighted to join Finance and Economic Opportunities Minister David Maynier to launch a new US-Western Cape trade and investment promotion partnership.

This collaboration supports President Joe Biden’s priority of partnering with dynamic and growing African economies, including sub-national ones like the Western Cape.

This new partnership builds on the already robust economic and commercial relationship between the Western Cape and the US. Despite the pandemic, our bilateral trade grew in 2020, including a 68% increase in citrus exports and a 78% increase in wine exports to the US. To strengthen this partnership, the senior US official focused on commerce in Africa conducted a virtual visit to the Western Cape on March 3 this year.

During a meeting with Minister Maynier, Alderman James Vos and Wesgro chief executive Tim Harris, Deputy Assistant Secretary Camille Richardson announced the creation of a new commercial officer position at the US Consulate General in Cape Town.

This new position will provide even greater resources to encourage existing and new US private sector trade and investment in the Western Cape.

So far, the results of the partnership have been astounding. In the past few months, US companies have invested in the ICT, agriculture, agri-processing, health, tech, and energy sectors, to name but a few. In early March, Airbnb announced a partnership with the Western Cape and Wesgro to promote remote working in the Western Cape by offering extended stays with local hosts in the province.

Our partnership goes beyond corporations and products.

This month, we launched a job readiness webinar series through our American Corner (@ACCape on Facebook) to help South Africa’s youth develop skills that Fortune 500 US companies seek, while also providing practical advice on polishing up CVs or improving job interview techniques.

For entrepreneurs in the creative industry, we are hosting a series of workshops focused on product development, branding, marketing, and export, as well as creating an online presence. Similarly, our partnership with the Cape Town-based Africa Women Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum provides training and mentorship to help female entrepreneurs grow their businesses.

The last 12 months have been challenging and, at times, tragic. Together, I know that we can build on this partnership to bring shared prosperity to the people of the Western Cape and the US, as we continue to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic, recover from it, and grow together.

Credit: Originally published in Cape Times,  29 Mar 2021