TOUCHING DOWN: US President Barack Obama waves as he arrives with his daughter Sasha at Dakar airport earlier this week. After visiting Senegal he will travel to South Africa and Tanzania. Picture: REUTERS
TOUCHING DOWN: US President Barack Obama waves as he arrives with his daughter Sasha at Dakar airport earlier this week. After visiting Senegal he will travel to South Africa and Tanzania. Picture: REUTERS

THE government was making final preparations on Thursday for "critical" bilateral talks with the US.

President Barack Obama visits South Africa this weekend and will meet President Jacob Zuma and African Union Commission chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) has said it will protest during the visit, over the US’s foreign policy approach to conflict resolution and trade relations which the federation said exploited developing economies. But this week Mr Zuma and government ministers said the government looked forward to the visit, and anyone critical of Mr Obama’s visit to South Africa had a right to protest peacefully.

The South African Institute of International Affairs’ manager of economic diplomacy, Catherine Grant, said South Africa and the US enjoyed "a strong bilateral and trade relationship", despite a shift to developing economies as investment destinations of the future.

Ms Grant said, given the mature relationship between the two nations, no major announcements were expected from the meeting between Mr Obama and Mr Zuma.

She did, however, say difficult discussions on security and conflict matters, including government-rebel conflict in Syria, were likely.

Regarding Cosatu’s opposition to Mr Obama’s state visit, Ms Grant said the move by the federation was "ironic" and "emotive".

"It’s ironic that Cosatu opposes the visit as the US is the largest destination for our value-add exports. Surely we should look at this relationship for what it really is instead of being emotive about the matter," Ms Grant said.

Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies said on Wednesday there was a "healthy balance" of trade between the US and South Africa, and the US recognised the growth prospects of the African continent.

Mr Davies said his office had been informed by the White House that Mr Obama had six major objectives for his visit, including ensuring infrastructure development on the continent and signalling his confidence in Africa as a growth centre to the rest of the world.

Mr Davies said four of the six objectives of Mr Obama’s visit involved trade. He said that Africa needed to advance regional integration and establish large regional markets as a basis to support trade in order to industrialise.

"If you go to any forum and you listen to African leaders they will tell us the African continent needs to embark on developing our productive sector activities and particularly our value-added activities. In a nutshell, the continent needs to industrialise," Mr Davies said.

On Tuesday, International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said that despite local opposition to the visit, South Africa was "very ready" to welcome the US president this weekend.

"This is a democratic country. We will receive him like all heads of state to South Africa. Some will feel they want to be heard. As long as we do it peacefully … we feel very honoured to have him (Mr Obama)," she said.

There are about 600 American companies operating in South Africa.

Additional activities during Mr Obama’s visit will include a public address at the University of Cape Town on Sunday and presiding over the Young African Leaders Initiative at the University of Johannesburg on Saturday.