BRICS: A New Partnership for Africa by Mohau Pheko, High Commissioner of the Republic of South Africa to Canada.

With the anticipated formation of BRICS later this year, many will question the value of South Africa’s presence amongst these emerging giants. I want to reiterate the South African Government’s thinking on why South Africa being in a BRICS formation is a natural synergy and partnership. When South Africa’s Foreign Minister (Minister of International Relations & Cooperation), Ms Nkoana-Mashabane, asserted that the country “fits BRICS like a glove” she was highlighting the undeniable potential that the country brings to this expanded partnership. South Africa maybe the smallest economy and population in the grouping but it comes with a great deal of political influence and economic potential both domestically, in SADC and the African continent. It is after all a major investor and political player on the African continent, an entity of 53 independent states with a population of more than a billion people.

Africa is undeniably vital to the economic interests of the powerful emerging markets with a high growth potential. The importance of Africa in South Africa’s trade profile is often ignored. South Africa has over the past decade been able to prominently position itself on the continent and create a great deal of leverage through its investment footprint. This brings to BRICS a new dimension that exposes new opportunities and creates an avenue for greater economic and political interaction. This thinking is clearly highlighted in comments made by our Foreign Minister when she emphasized that “we [South Africa] will be a good gateway for the BRIC countries. While we may have a small population, we don’t just speak for South Africa, we speak for Africa as a whole. We bring the most diversified and most advanced economy on the continent. We may not be the same size, but we can open up opportunities for them and through that, we can complete our economic integration on the continent.”

Another important area of consideration is South Africa’s commitment to international financial stability through the G20 and the work of the FSB. This is strengthened by its role in seeking greater democracy in and the reform of the Global Financial Architecture. The country’s foreign policy agenda mirrors much of the focus of the other BRIC members. The unity of purpose amongst BRICS members in calling for the reform of the global governance system, international trade and climate change to name a few, undoubtedly lends to a natural partnership. A Russian Foreign Ministry statement, which was echoed in similar statements by other BRIC members, celebrated the invitation of South Africa to join the partnership. It stated that “South Africa’s inclusion is in line with sustainable trends of global development, including the emergence of a polycentric international system.”

BRIC may have had its roots in an economically- focused Goldman Sachs Report but the genesis and evolution of BRIC to BRICS has a deep-rooted political and economic dimension to its current existence. Since June 2009 in Yekaterinburg, the grouping has ushered in a new dimension to the global political discourse: The world has changed fundamentally since the end of the Cold War. The global political and economic system is reconfiguring to reflect the new realities that characterise this environment. Global interdependence and national interests which have a deep political economic dimension has come to characterise the contemporary international system. BRIC is a political voice for emerging markets. The economic dimension of BRIC has a clear and unequivocal political will behind it and this was strongly highlighted at the 2010 Brasilia Summit.

Whilst BRIC is currently the premier platform for the world’s most influential emerging economies with an economic agenda, it is not an economic bloc. Within BRIC itself there are visible distinctions and levels of economic power but the political unity of purpose, is its strength.  All five are members of the G20, members or aspire to be members of the UN Security Council and belong to regional economic entities. They have a congruency of international political purpose and represent the aspirations of those previously disempowered nations who need to protect their development space. South Africa is privileged to be invited to form such a vital global partnership and also heralds in another vital phase in South Africa’s post-apartheid foreign policy interaction.

The invitation for South Africa to join an expanded BRIC partnership is both mutually beneficial and is an astute recognition by the other partners that South Africa has a significant contribution to make in the grouping.

Issued by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation

OR Tambo Building
460 Soutpansberg Road
Rietondale
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7 March 2011


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