South Africa’s Ambassador to the United States this week expressed his concerns with South Africa being left behind in the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), the longstanding U.S. trade benefits program, according to a Politico Pro report.

One central point of friction in negotiations is the steep anti-dumping duties imposed by South Africa on U.S. poultry over a decade ago. Both Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA), the two top Senators on the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, have concerns about equal market access in South Africa, according to the Politico Pro report.

However, South Africa’s Ambassador to the United States, Ebrahim Rasool said Monday that the United States would send a terrible message and could damage its own economic interests, if it kicks South Africa out of a longstanding U.S. trade benefits program because its economy has become too competitive. “Every other African country will say, ‘The moment you industrialize, you are out of AGOA. Let’s not industrialize,’” Rasool warned in remarks at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, referring to the AGOA, which is up for renewal next year.

“I think that is the perverse incentive of the debate we are having now with the U.S.” the ambassador said, adding he believed it would be an even bigger mistake if Congress decided not to renew the entire AGOA program. “Congress must understand they can’t bludgeon trade with Africa. It has to incentivize trade with Africa.”

President Barack Obama has not formally proposed “graduating” South Africa from the AGOA program but did suggest that possibility on a trip to the country last year. In addition, some members of Congress are frustrated that European Union exporters have better market access in South Africa and other African countries and are pushing for improved treatment for U.S. goods as a condition of any AGOA renewal.

According to PoliticoPro, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, in a speech at the 2013 AGOA forum in Ethiopia, called for a candid conversation about the future of the program, which waives duties on a long list of generally non-controversial goods from about 40 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

“We will be frank about our sensitivities, and I’ll expect the same candor from you,” Froman said. “But in that exchange, let’s ask which AGOA countries should qualify to export certain products and why? Should there be graduation for sectors or for countries? How should we treat African export sectors that are globally competitive, versus those just starting out?”

The review comes at a time when South Africa is planning major infrastructure improvements to help bolster its weak economy and many other countries on the continent are experiencing their best growth in decades.

In March, South Africa’s state-owned rail company said it planned to buy more than 1,000 locomotives for more than $4.7 billion, including 233 from General Electric. Another big contract currently under consideration could lead to the sale of 40 Boeing aircraft, Rasool said.

South Africa until recently had the largest economy in Africa, but lost that title when Nigeria recalibrated its gross domestic product. Even so, South Africa remains the manufacturing hub for the region and removing it from the program would jeopardize regional integration efforts, the South African ambassador said.

Many African countries were forced to accept preferential trading arrangements with their former European colonial rulers as a condition of independence and would prefer to shed them, Rasool said in response to U.S. concerns about unequal treatment.

According to the PolitocPro report, Rasool acknowledged the duties on US poultry created an awkward situation. But it may be possible for South Africa to replace the anti-dumping duties on U.S. poultry with an across-the-board tariff that would treat all foreign suppliers equally and still give local producers a chance to compete, he said.