Keynote Address by the Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, H. E. Mr. Ebrahim I Ebrahim at the BRICS Round-Table Discussion hosted by the IMC and the Financial Times, Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Chairperson of the International Marketing Council of SA, Ms Anitha Soni,
Hosts of tonight’s discussion, the CEO of the IMC, Mr Miller Matola, and the COO of the Financial Times of South Africa, Ms Rochelle Josiah,
Esteemed Panel Members joining us,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The International Marketing Council (IMC) of South Africa and the Financial Times must be congratulated for collaborating in hosting this roundtable discussion on South Africa’s membership of BRICS. These discussions demonstrate our willingness as a country to leverage potential benefits as a result of the opportunities presented by BRICS.

It is indeed an honour to address you this evening and I hope to, inter alia, bring to these discussions a sense of the actual BRICS proceedings from our first meeting as to emphasise South Africa’s role within this formation. I will also endeavor to elucidate on what it is that South Africa brings to BRICS as well as our strategic objectives towards BRICS. Alongside that, we should apply our minds on critical issues such as:

Firstly, the real commonalities that are emerging out of this partnership;

Secondly, how the country and the African continent envisage to maximize benefits from South Africa’s membership of BRICS; and

Lastly, ensure a systemic focus on those fundamental building blocks that enjoin us together as a people – that which if we lose, shall detach the entire meaning of creating a better BRICS for a more prosperous and a better world.

I am sure that you will agree with me that the level of interest demonstrated by many, following South Africa’s accession to BRICS, both internationally and locally, was indeed unprecedented – and this excites us! From the detractors and nay-sayers to the advocates who recognize the opportunities inherent in intensifying international cooperation, the debates in the media and in various economic fora, academic institutions and think tanks, BRICS is the focus of attention – this is without any shadow of doubt!

Programme Directors,

Let us here tonight decisively move the debate about BRICS forward beyond narrowly defined criteria and toward actualities within the shifting global economic context. I hope we will also be pro-active in contributing to setting the agenda for debate around BRICS, as we make our assessments of the opportunities, benefits and challenges so as to provoke innovative thought and debate.

Ladies and Gentleman,

South Africa’s accession to BRICS in January 2011 was the culmination of broad-based thinking and joint efforts that started two years ago. Drawing from the important history of the origins of South-South co-operation laid down in 1955 at the Bandung Conference, as well as with the creation of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1961, the Government of South Africa recognized that we have to be part of the forward march of history.

Our accession into BRICS is also an acknowledgement of the fact that the age of globalization requires us to elevate mutual partnerships to a different level. We enter into these alliances, taking advantage of the wells of goodwill and solidarity out there, with a view to exploiting these beneficial political and economic relations. Our analysis of the impact of economic and political globalization has necessitated our government to find ways to adapt to the new conditions on the ground, hence our   decision to seek for new markets and strategic partners in order to prosper.

Ladies and Gentleman,

Our view is that the narrowly defined criteria for BRICS member states have hampered in some important quarters the development of real and innovative thinking on and around BRICS.  It is true, South Africa does not have a trillion dollar GDP - and it is a fact that we are the smallest economy inside BRICS.

We agree that we do not have a major world population size in comparison to other BRICS member states, including the high digit growth rates enjoyed by its BRICS partners. We move from the premise that, there are attributes that fellow BRICS member-states see in our country, that some among us choose to overlook or undermine. We also argue that, if we consistently profile ourselves as that small country on the southern tip of Africa, we will go nowhere. 

Ladies and Gentleman,
Our political attributes of having traversed the route from racial oppression to a democratic South Africa, without going the civil war route, is celebrated the world over. Less than twenty years ago, all the BRICS member states supported the liberation struggle in South Africa, and now that we have won our collective political liberation, these countries come back to us in an effort to help us win our next battle of economic emancipation.

Our independent outlook on international issues, be it on the reform of Global Institutions of Governance or issues of Climate Change or the use of force – all these have earned us respect and recognition.   

At an economic level, our positive attributes, that puts us in a different category include, amongst others, our role as a major economic player in Africa; our mineral and industrial output; our electricity generation capacity; our road, rail, ports, communication infrastructure; our sophisticated financial markets and service industries; our manufacturing capacity; our membership in the G20; our level of industrialization. All these, and many more profiles us in a very positive way.

Important for us to note, is also that as a group of emerging markets, we share some similar concerns and interests with regard to reform of the global governance mechanism, aspects of under-development, illiteracy, poverty, disease and access to markets, just to mention a few. Collaboration and cooperation are therefore central to this evolving BRICS Mechanism.

On the business front, BRICS member states are the largest new investors and trade partners into Africa with strong exponential growth potential for the future. Africa’s exports to BRICS countries have grown more rapidly than its imports - increasing from 13 billion USD in 2001 to 93, 5 billion USD in 2008. 

It must give us a great sense of pride to know that South Africa is the third biggest investor into Africa within the BRICS grouping, after China and India. Important also is the fact that BRICS countries hold some of the largest foreign reserve bases in the world, coupled with the high savings rates in those countries. We therefore can look forward to investment in developmental projects.

Programme Directors,

In order to further strengthen the work it does, the Third BRICS Summit came out with the most comprehensive Declaration to date and a detailed Action Plan. This Action Plan pronounced on future areas of cooperation that me and you should start applying our minds on. These include in the field of Science and Technology, Agriculture, Statistics, Banking Cooperation, Competition Commission, Justice, Think Tanks, Health, Education and cooperatives. We believe all these areas are not only of importance to the South African economy but also to the African continent in general.

For those that say we should be sensitive to our physical size, we invite you to tell us about the physical size and natural wealth of Japan, the Netherlands and Singapore. If the three countries had folded their arms and accepted it as their fate that they are small, where will they be today?  We will continue to find ways to exploit our strong strategic relations at the bilateral level with all the other BRICS members, including within the context of the India-Brazil-South Africa Dialogue Forum.

We move into BRICS un-ashamedly and with confidence that we exist alongside them as equals.  Having participated in the April 14, 2011 Summit, we can say this with no fear of contradiction that  participation, deliberations and inputs into shaping the agenda of the BRICS Forum are given equal weight in adherence to the principles of cooperation. The basic values of consensus through consultation, transparency, non-alignment and a commitment to work on areas of convergences inform this body. 

Let me share with you details of South Africa’s participation in the Third BRICS Summit that took place on 14 April 2011.

We went into this BRICS Summit with the objective of consolidating our BRICS membership; commit to its processes and related mechanisms; identifying and there-after seek to leverage opportunities for South Africa’s developmental agenda; enhancing the African Agenda and Sustainable Development; promoting broad cooperation in the Multilateral arena; and working for cooperation with other emerging market economies.

South Africa received a very warm welcome from the four other members who felt that an important deficit in that composition of the group had been addressed with South Africa’s accession. 

We are particularly satisfied with the text of the outcome document for the Summit, the Sanya Declaration, which is notable for being, for the first time, a very detailed statement with common positions on a variety of economic and political issues.

Programme Directors,

Our partners made it clear that they look at South Africa as an ally and as a guide on economic development opportunities, into the Southern African region and the broader African continent.  Our President went further to invite companies of the BRICS member states to join hands with South African companies in the development of Africa and pointed out that in terms of infrastructure alone, 480 billion dollars in investments will be required over the next 10 years.

My appeal to you this evening is that we need to be mindful of the responsibilities this new development places upon us. Let us work together to successfully leverage these priorities; and seize the opportunity to the benefit of our continent.

Ladies and Gentlemen, let us not be coy about this, nor cynical.

Our foreign policy implores us not just to focus on our national interests alone, but to share with our region and our Continent. It is for this very reason that we are pursuing regional integration with renewed vigor with the objective of linking SADC, EAC and COMESA into one large Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

We believe this will provide economies of scale, larger markets and position us to better compete in the global economy. The BRICS economies, which already constitute approximately 40% of global GDP, will link a large part of Africa with the fastest growing economies in the world. 

The question is often asked: does South Africa have a mandate to speak on behalf of Africa in fora such as BRICS and the G20 for example. We wish to state that, we have no mandate nor have we asked for one from the African Union (AU) to represent them within the BRICS Mechanism. As for the G20, we have that mandate from the AU.

Notwithstanding, it should be noted that our interactions within these bodies are informed by the wealth of information we have about our region and our continent. We will resist any temptation to represent only ourselves, for we are inextricably part of this continent. Consequently, wherever you find South African diplomats, they speak not only for the wellbeing of South Africa, but also of the region, and the African Continent of which we are an integral part.

President Zuma has been given a clear mandate by the leadership of the AU to chair the NEPAD High Level Sub-Committee on Infrastructure. As a result, the President utilized our presence at the third BRICS Summit to highlight Africa’s need for infrastructure and industrialization. In the Sanya Declaration, the BRICS countries expressed support for this.

In closing, I would like to quote our Minister of Trade and Investment, Dr Rob Davies, when he said in his budget vote speech on 19 April 2011 that South Africa will work within BRICS
“to build on existing trade and investment flows, while encouraging greater inward investment and exports of higher value added, employment generating, goods and services.”

Minister Davies brought to the fore the continuing importance of our traditional partners when he noted that in as far as investment promotion is concerned, South Africa is involved in targeted initiatives with China, India, Russia, Brazil, Japan, Spain, Germany, France, the UK,  USA and countries of the Middle East. The South African government anticipates that this work programme will translate over the next three years into an investment pipeline of projects valued at approximately R115 billion.

Let me once more thank both the co-organizers of this event, the South African Marketing Council and the Financial Times. Important also is for me to thank everyone in attendance for providing us this space to interact with you.

Our job as practitioners of diplomacy is to tackle and unscrew the tough socio-economic and political nuts in the international arena, it is now for business to do what it does best – which is being in business.

I thank you all!

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