South Africa will lean harder on its partners in the BRICS group of emerging market powers should it lose preferential access to US markets, the head of the country’s largest labor federation said.

South Africa has maintained what it terms a non-aligned position toward Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a stand that has irked Washington. Tensions spiked earlier this year when the US ambassador to Pretoria accused South Africa of loading arms onto a Russian ship and said its actions could imperil its preferential access to American markets under the African Growth and Opportunity Act. The government denied the allegation.

AGOA “is mutually beneficial, the US government is benefitting,” Congress of South African Trade Unions President Zingiswa Losi said at a Bloomberg conference on Friday. If they decide to end the preferential access, which expires in 2025, it won’t create a vacuum, she said. 

“China will be coming in, India will be coming in, Russia will be coming in and many others will be coming in because those opportunities are there,” said Losi, who was part of a delegation that recently visited the US to ask for AGOA’s extension. 

South Africa has exported $2.7 billion of goods using AGOA and the so-called Generalized System of Preferences to the US, its second-largest trading partner.  

BRICS leaders will hold their annual summit in Johannesburg next week. A possible expansion of the bloc will top the agenda, with Saudi Arabia and Indonesia among those who’ve expressed interest in joining.