There has been lot of scepticisms including inferences that we are abandoning our foreign policy objectives by placing emphasis on the BRICS. Nelson Mandela identified in 1993 when he penned an article titled South Africa`s Future Foreign Policy: NEW PILLARS FOR A NEW WORLD. He said;
“Economic development depends on growing regional and international economic cooperation in an interdependent world”.
This is one of the pillars our foreign policy objectives remain predicated on. It is in this context that South Africa accepted the invitation to join BRICS in 2011. We believe that economic cooperation remains an important instrument to pursue our national interests and improve the living conditions of our people.
Our country’s foreign policy outlook is predicated on our African history and identity. We are Africans by birth and therefore our country belongs to this continent and not as a result of geographical composition. In the same vein you will appreciate that Africans are part of the Global South comprising in the main by countries which were colonised and citizens who were subjugated for a long time.
The BRICS formation signifies a long standing tradition of solidarity that was firmly established 63 years ago, in April 1955. This was when countries of Asia and Africa met at the historic Bandung Conference to determine their stance and common goals in the emerging Cold War era and assert themselves in the international system. The historic result of the Bandung Conference was the formation of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in later years.
Amid pressure from the Cold War bipolarisation, those countries were able to concertedly affirm that they would choose neither the East nor the West, but pursue their own path and strategy under the “Bandung Principles” of the Afro-Asia solidarity. It is important to recall that South Africa was at the Bandung Conference, represented by selected ANC leaders.
For those who have shown interest on why Russia is a member of the BRICS, again history will remind you that they identified themselves with the anti-colonial struggle and development of countries of the South. Their involvement in our own country as well as our struggle against apartheid is well documented and they continue to support our development priorities in the post-Cold War and post-apartheid era.
Following the attainment of democracy South Africa appreciated the common socio-economic challenges of countries of the South. This challenges continue to be compounded by an international system that perpetuates the marginalisation of developing countries. In this context, South Africa sought to forge partnerships with other developing countries through formations such as the BRICS in order to address the historic imbalances and economic inequalities.
Even before we joined the BRIC, reference was made by scholars and commentators to its potential. What comes to mind is that the concept “BRIC” was first mooted by Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs in reference to emerging economies. Perhaps what becomes important and relevant today is that while this concept was intended to reflect emerging markets and investment opportunities, the acronym became equated to a shift in global economic power.
The original projections for the emerging economies to become dominant global powers were estimated at around 2050. However due to unforeseen positive growth in their economies, particularly at the time of the global financial crisis, such projections have since been revised to 2027. The BRICS countries produce a third of the world’s industrial products and one half of agricultural goods.
According to the Standard Bank Report on BRICS published in 2017, as at the end of 2016, the collective GDP of the BRICS was larger than that of the entire European Union, and accounted for 22,5% of total global output. Though the value of external trade relationships have declined, the BRICS are still a collectively profound trading partner for developing economies in general and Africa in particular, with these flows bolstered by investment on the continent, particularly from China, South Africa and India.
There is general consensus that since its inception the BRICS formation has joined an array of inter-regional bodies that contribute to global diffusion of power. It is not an illusion that BRICS countries collectively and individually contribute to the tectonic shift due to amongst others the increased economic dominance of China and the re-emergence of Russia.
These shifts and changes in the global sphere augurs well with our African Agenda. The unity and renewal of our African continent must be pursued together with efforts to transform the global system. Humanity can thrive when their collective and individual interests and aspirations are responded to and the BRICS formation is tilting the balance of forces to ensure exactly that.
It is within this context that the BRICS Summit hosted an Africa-Outreach meeting of selected Heads of State and government. This approach was started in Durban when we hosted the BRICS in 2013. Our view is that we must continue to promote and enhance the implementation of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 through the BRICS mechanisms.
There is no contestation that the establishment and subsequent operationalisation of the BRICS New Development Bank provided an alternative for project funding. This will again complement the existing global traditional financial institutions. The BRICS mandate is that to ensure that infrastructure and sustainable development project funding by the BRICS bank is made available to countries that are not members of the formation.
We have started to implement some of the selected and profiled BRICS projects. These projects and areas included: Insurance and Re-insurance Cooperation; the BRICS Seed Bank; Infrastructure, including Electricity Generation and Transmission; the BRICS Cable Project, the African Union (AU) North-South Development Corridor; the Ocean’s Economy; Cooperation in Aviation; and Manufacturing.
We witnessed with pride the first tranche of NDB project loans disbursed in 2016. I recall that this trench included a project in renewable energy amounting to 180 million USD to our own country. This has enabled us to stabilize our electricity grid supply and keep the much-needed jobs through continued operations in factories. There are those who are already saying the NDB could be the new World Bank, as far as I know this was not the objective of its creation. In May 208 South Africa was granted an additional loan of USD 200 million by the NDB for expansion of the Durban port. It is worth noting that thus far the NDB has disbursed loans totalling USD 5.1 billion.
As we continue leveraging the opportunities provided by the BRICS formation, we must ensure that we infuse and harness youth dividends. Young people represent 66% of South Africa’s population and the challenge, at hand, is how to harness their collective potential to be productive and contribute to the growth of an inclusive, knowledge-driven industrial economy. In the continent the rate the youth account for is 60%.
In his maiden State of the Nation address, President Ramaphosa gave clear direction on youth empowerment, a message that will cascade to all the facets of the 10th BRICS Summit.
“Our most grave and most pressing challenge is youth unemployment. It is, therefore, a matter of great urgency that we draw young people in far greater numbers into productive economic activity. Young South Africans will be moved to the centre of our economic agenda.”
I am certain that this can be achieved within the ambit of the intra-BRICS cooperation work programme, as contained in the BRICS Action Plan. Similarly we want to see deepened engagements with the South African BRICS Business Council, the BRICS Civil society, and Academic community.
In 2017, China innovated on the traditional Outreach approach by introducing the concept of BRICS Plus, which entailed a dialogue with Emerging Markets and Developing Countries.
The rationale behind the BRICS Plus concept is to create a platform for greater interaction and partnerships amongst countries of the Global South to shape the agenda to effect changes in the global economy, notably for (i) development and economic growth through trade and investment integration, and (ii) cooperation in global governance financial, economic and political institutions.
In the interest of ensuring maximum synergy between South Africa’s Chairship of BRICS and that of China’s in 2017, South Africa has also elected to consider a BRICS Plus element. In this regard, South Africa has elected to invite the Leaders of the following countries representing Regional Economic Communities in the Global South and the United Nations:
- Argentina – as Chair of the G20 and influential Common Market of the South (MERCOSUR) member
- Indonesia – as Co-Chair of the New Africa-Asia Strategic Partnership with South Africa and influential Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member
- Egypt – as Chair of the Group of 77 (G77) +China
- Jamaica – as incoming Chair of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)
- Turkey – as Chair of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)
- United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, Mr Antonio Guterres
We are confident that the 10th BRICS Summit will prove a success as the previous one hosted in eThekwini in 2013. As such, new areas of BRICS cooperation have been proposed by South Africa, are as follows:
- Establishment of a Working Group on Peacekeeping;
- Establishment of a Vaccine Research Centre for Collaboration with BRICS vaccine innovation and development partners – this is intended to be a physical research centre focused on research and development and vaccine innovation;
- Establishment of a BRICS Gender and Women’s Forum – intended as a dedicated track for gender and women’s issues, given the economic benefit to be derived from the socio-economic empowerment of women, particularly in developing countries;
- Leveraging the Strategy for BRICS Economic Partnership towards the pursuit of Inclusive Growth and Advancing the 4th Industrial Revolution – this is intended to foster discussions to addresses opportunities provided by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, as a means of leapfrogging development stages and bridging the digital divide; and
- Establishment of a BRICS Tourism Track of Cooperation.
- South Africa’s approach to its Chairship is grounded in the intention to ensure programmatic continuity for BRICS, and committed to executing approximately 100 sectoral meetings, reflective of the expanded BRICS architecture. We also intend to bring a specific focus to the challenges and opportunities presented by the 4th Industrial Revolution.
Individually and as a collective we are conscious about challenges such as insecurity, growing uncertainties which are compounded by economic sluggishness. We believe that, in this second decade of existence, the BRICS formation has gained sufficient experience to play a larger, active and more constructive role in global affairs. We must build on the achievements recorded in the past decade and further strive towards collective prosperity and contribute to the greater cause of humanity.
We have stated in various platforms that our membership of BRICS shall never be misconstrued as a negation of our relations with countries of the North. I wish to underscore that this is a complimentary mechanism which has already proven to be beneficial to its members and certainly will benefit the African continent.
By Luwellyn Landers, Deputy Minister in the Department of International Relations and Cooperation)