By Chelsea Markowitz*
Donald Trump is now the 45th president of the United States. His decidedly short inauguration speech evoked his central narrative of populism and domestic focus, with very little foray into policy detail.
Speculation continues as to whether he will actually make good on many of his unprecedented policy proposals, and also as to how they could affect Africa, which has barely been mentioned throughout his campaign. It is therefore useful to take a look at both the likelihood that Trump will stick to his guns and the degree of difficulty in pushing these initiatives forward within the US government architecture.
In 2015, the US was one of 172 countries to ratify the Paris Climate Change Agreement (COP 21), along with other major CO2 emitters such as China and India. However, Trump has gone as far as to say that he will leave the Paris Climate Change Agreement. The way in which the US engages on climate change has important consequences; in Africa climate change is a continuing threat which disproportionately detriments the livelihoods of the most vulnerable.
So, can Trump, and will Trump, leave COP21?
Despite his rhetoric, it is unlikely that Trump pull out of the Agreement. Of all of the policy promises that Trump has made, issues of climate change are less prominent in the minds of American people, and in fact, most actually support the concept of environmental protection. COP21 is also designed so that the process of exiting will take four years, and thus Trump could already be on his way out of office by the time this is enacted, leaving less to gain.
However, Trump might stay in the Agreement, but simply choose to ignore most US CO2 targets to the degree that they constrain businesses. Also, Trump may focus on reversing Obama’s other domestic environmental legislations, in with the goal of reducing regulations for businesses. However, such actions will face a flurry of challenges from environmental NGOs and ultimately be decided in courts.
Making good deals has been a hallmark of Trump’s campaign, and he has vowed to renegotiate “bad” trade deals so that they reflect America’s best interests. Renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has taken centre stage, and is one of the first items on Trump’s agenda.
And what about AGOA?
The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) is an Act passed by Congress under the Clinton administration which gives African countries preferential access to the US markets for a range of goods. In spite of flaws, it is a boon for many countries, particularly South Africa which has benefitted beyond resource extraction through manufacturing exports. Trump likely views AGOA as uneven given it is not reciprocal; however, his focus on the Act will likely be minimal. Most of the American public has never heard of AGOA, and the small amounts of manufactured goods imported do not make a big dent on US jobs. So, AGOA just might slip under the radar.
Perhaps more worrying is the initiation of negotiations for new, more reciprocal trade deals on the Continent to replace AGOA after its expiry in 2025. Trump does not seem to have an appetite towards forming new trade deals, and even if countries such as South Africa do manage to bring him to the table, the likelihood of arriving at deals with favourable terms, or any deal at all, are slim.
Trump has questioned the rationale of devoting money overseas when America has pressing issues at home. Perhaps most interesting will be his approach to some of the largest recipients of US aid such as Israel and Egypt, which have considerable geopolitical significance. Additionally, what will be the future of important US AID programmes for Africa, such as PEPFAR and YALI?
While Trump’s short term, transactional approach to politics probably sees little benefit in these aid programmes, African aid has historically received bipartisan support from Congress. Trump’s prospective Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, espoused the benefits of PEPFAR in his confirmation hearing. Trump will have to pick his battles when going against Congress and cabinet members, and it is safe to say that African aid will not be a top battle chosen. Trump could possibly shave some money off of these programmes as a part of his budget, but he will likely not gut them completely. However, hopes of additional funding or new programmes under Trump will not likely materialise.
Foreign Relations and Diplomacy
Though Trump has chided African dictators as well as corruption on the Continent in the past, his primary focus on domestic issues and global non-interference imply that he will not significantly act on these statements. However, given Trump’s primary foreign policy concern is fighting terrorism, funds devoted to Afcom military support will likely be safe when considering the threats of Boko Haram and Al Shabbab. Perhaps the most significant aspect of Trump’s diplomatic engagement comes from his battle against China, which could actually benefit the Continent through greater investment in infrastructure in order to compete with the Chinese.
In the eyes of Trump, Africa is a small fish among a large pond of policy promises, and the fact that Africa may slip under Trump’s radar might not be a bad thing. Perhaps most important to note is that if African countries are expecting high levels of collaboration and engagement with the US, this will now likely be much more difficult than with past administrations. It is therefore important for countries to be clear and united in their approach to the US engagement, advocating the underutilised potential for American trade and investment, while at the same time continuing to put more emphasis on relations with other large global players.