US ambassador-designate to SA Lana Marks, at the US Embassy in Sandton. Picture: ALON SKUY
US ambassador-designate to SA Lana Marks, at the US Embassy in Sandton. Picture: ALON SKUY

The newly appointed US ambassador to SA, Lana Marks says she plans to increase her country’s trade and investment in SA and work as a matchmaker for US firms interested in coming to the country.

Marks, an SA-born handbag designer, was appointed three years after her predecessor Patrick Gaspard left the position.

She was approached by Trump for the position in November 2016, but was only officially nominated in October 2018 and confirmed by the US Senate in September this year.

In her first briefing as ambassador in Johannesburg on Wednesday, the same day as the public impeachment hearings against Trump were to start, Marks said increasing trade and investment between the US and SA was one of her priorities.

The US is SA’s third largest trading partner with two-way trade in 2018 valued at R203bn. “As you will soon learn about me, I am really not one to settle for third place,” she said.

Marks said she was confident trade and investment with the US would soar despite SA’s economic woes after being downgraded to junk status by two of the three major credit ratings agencies.

She said she had arrived in the country two days ago and attended the African Investment conference. There she interacted with US business people at the highest level, who had long-standing partnerships with SA and with those who were interested in investing, she said.

“This is a huge pivotal time and very exciting time for both the US and SA,” Marks said.

She said Trump and the US Congress “totally believes” in President Cyril Ramaphosa's initiatives to turn SA around economically.

“We believe that this is a very exciting, pivotal time to greatly increase trade and investment of the US in SA, and I just see it accelerating at a very fast pace together, and I am thrilled to be here personally to be this conduit between Pretoria and Washington.

“We are just going to greatly increase our trade and investment with SA, it is just hugely positive.”

Earlier in 2019, Trump reportedly sent US officials to SA to look into land expropriation.

In August 2018, Trump tweeted that he had asked his secretary of state Mike Pompeo to “closely study the SA land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers. ‘South African government is now seizing land from white farmers.”

Marks, however, seemed to have a different view on Wednesday when asked about her views on land affairs and rural security.

“There has been no prominent land seizures or anything like that, that we are aware of. We are very pleased on the US side that things have been dealt with in a very transparent manner, we want to ensure going forward that there is a very, very good environment, for my personal mandate, to greatly increase and trade and investment in SA,” she said.

Asked why Trump had not visited SA as president, Marks said she would “love nothing more” than for him to visit.

“I know that president Trump was personally very anxious for me to arrive here and when I became his candidate in November 2016 he personally told me how beautiful Cape Town was,” she said.

Correction: November 13 2019

An earlier version of this article said the US president would “love nothing more” than to visit SA, when in fact it was the US ambassador to SA that indicated her desire for such a visit. The president also did not nominate Marks in November 2016, but approached her for the position at that time. She was nominated in October 2018.

quintalg@businesslive.co.za