WASHINGTON — President Reagan, concluding that U.S. economic sanctions have done more harm than good for the cause of racial justice in South Africa, said Friday that it would be futile to impose additional punitive measures against the white-led minority Pretoria government.
In a report to Congress, Reagan said that the sanctions, imposed last October, have had little impact on the South African economy. Instead, he said, the measures served mainly to stiffen the government's determination to resist outside pressures to reform its apartheid system and to reduce U.S. influence there.
Congress passed the sanctions over Reagan's veto a year ago. The legislation required the President to propose additional measures unless the South African government made substantial strides toward the establishment of a non-racial democracy.
"I am unable to report significant progress leading to the end of apartheid. . . . Events in South Africa since October, 1986, provide very little hope for optimism about the immediate future," the President said.
Reagan refused to propose additional steps because, he said, the impact of the ones already in place "has been more negative than positive."
Lawmakers See Loopholes
Rep. Howard Wolpe (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Africa subcommittee, was joined by 32 other House members--17 Republicans and 15 Democrats--in accusing the Administration of riddling the sanctions with loopholes that sapped their effectiveness.
In a letter to the President, the lawmakers said that tougher sanctions must be imposed "if the Administration is to avoid the impression that it applies one standard of human rights to the Soviet Union and other Communist human rights violators and quite another to the apartheid regime of South Africa."
A spokesman for Wolpe said that Reagan's refusal to recommend additional measures was a clear violation of the law, though he conceded that there is no way for Congress to enforce such a statute.
In the letter, the congressmen noted that Archbishop Desmond Tutu and other black South African leaders have called for stronger international sanctions.
But Reagan argued that "it would be futile to impose additional measures that would also be harmful to United States strategic or economic interests. In addition, our sanctions measures have made it more difficult for the United States to persuade the South African government to act responsibly on human rights issues, to move toward negotiations and to restrain its behavior in the region."
The President suggested that, during last year's heated debate, "Americans on both sides of the issue overstated the importance of the United States as a factor" in South African politics.
Although he ruled out additional sanctions, Reagan did not propose elimination of those already in place. He conceded that the sanctions were useful in two respects: They "sent a clear message to the ruling white community that the American people are outraged by the institutional injustice of apartheid," and they "have contributed to our efforts to broaden our contacts with black opposition groups."
However, Reagan maintained, the overall impact was negative.
"I am particularly concerned by evidence that these measures have caused increasing unemployment for black South African workers, especially in such industries as sugar production and coal mining," he said.
Reagan said the ban on U.S. imports from South Africa that was included in the list of sanctions was ineffective because most South African exports are raw materials that can be sold readily in other markets. Moreover, he said, after years of avoiding embargoes imposed by the United Nations and other countries, "South Africa has shown itself adept at evading sanctions."
The act does not require U.S. businesses to pull out of South Africa, but Reagan said that direct investment by American companies in South Africa has been more than cut in half, from $2.4 billion in 1982 to less than $1 billion now.
"Despite disinvestments, the products and services of departing U.S. firms remain generally available in South Africa," the President said. "The main impact of disinvestment has been to damage fair labor standards programs. There is no question but that many projects in education, training and community improvement funded by major foreign investors have been damaged or eliminated."