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by Ebrahim Ebrahim


by Ebrahim Ebrahim


Former Science and Technology Minister Pandor also stated at one of her recent engagements that: “The nexus of university and industry holds potential for economic development, entrepreneurship and job creation. We are not taking the opportunities presented to us as vigorously as we should.” Minister Pandor also commented that the government aimed to strengthen international partnerships in the pursuit of new knowledge and innovation for technology transfer opportunities.

A concrete example of the international work that we are doing in this area is to be found in the Academic and Business Forums that precede the BRICS Summits. DIRCO is partnering through the Department of Higher Education and Training with Higher Education South Africa (HESA) to host the Fifth BRICS Academic Forum, a few weeks prior to the Summit. We are currently focusing on developing the themes for this gathering of some of the world’s most prominent academics with exactly the same intent as I just described, i.e. to expand our basic and applied scientific research and development collaborations, as well as to provide BRICS Leaders with more concrete policy options for our respective societies’ developmental challenges.

BRICS Leaders pertinently tasked officials at the previous Summit to provide for “a general academic evaluation and future long-term strategy for BRICS”. Considering that our BRICS partners all have created dedicated BRICS Think Tanks, our BRICS Sherpa, Ambassador Matjila, met with relevant South African stakeholders to discuss how South Africa could also create its own dedicated BRICS Think Tank. We will provide more information in this regard in the near future following consultations with relevant parties.

I wish to invite all the academics and students present here today, to become part of these new and exciting opportunities that BRICS academic collaboration will offer us in future.

Various scholastic as well as journalistic articles appear almost daily on BRICS, some of which have been rather sensationalist. This is not surprising, given the dramatic shifts that are taking place in the international distribution of power, which is giving rise to an evolving multi-polar world order with new configurations and networks of states, such as BRICS and IBSA.

I wish to inform students that BRICS is in fact one of the most transparent inter-governmental groupings active in International Relations today. I would like to urge the students to study the Summit Declarations, which provide insight in our core deliberations and shared views on global issues of mutual interest. Since the Third Summit held in Sanya, an Action Plan has also been added to the Summit Declarations, which outline the various sectoral areas of intra-BRICS cooperation and propose new areas that will be explored for future cooperation.

BRICS Member States share and ascribe to core values which were already pronounced in its initial ministerial statement issued in 2008, prior to the first BRIC Summit, and I quote: “The [Ministers] emphasized the prospects of the BRIC dialogue based on mutual trust and respect, common interests, coincidence or similarity of approaches toward the pressing problems of global development. The Ministers agreed that building a more democratic international system founded on the rule of law and multilateral diplomacy is an imperative of our time. They reaffirmed the commitment of the BRICS to work together and with other states in order to strengthen international security and stability, ensure equal opportunities for development to all countries. The Ministers reiterated that today’s world order should be based on the rule of international law and the strengthening of multilateralism with the United Nations playing the central role. They reaffirmed the need for a comprehensive reform of the UN with a view to make it more efficient so that it can deal with the current global challenges more effectively.’

These underlying shared views have constituted the golden thread of BRICS deliberations and will continue to do so. They also provide insight into why South Africa was invited to join BRIC in 2010 and which BRICS Leaders again reaffirmed in their Delhi Declaration on 27 March 2012, and I quote: “BRICS is a platform for dialogue and cooperation amongst countries that represent 43% of the world’s population, for the promotion of peace, security and development in a multi-polar, inter-dependent and increasingly complex, globalizing world. Coming, as we do, from Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America, the transcontinental dimension of our interaction adds to its value and significance”.

Analysts and students of International Relations and related subjects will easily see the high levels of convergence between South African foreign policy postulates and positions assumed in the context of BRICS. BRICS, as may be the case with any other formation, can obviously not concur on all international issues, but we liaise closely, notably in the multilateral arena, to better understand our respective positions and to achieve higher degrees of synergy.

I would like to utilise today’s interaction as an opportunity to draw attention, not only to the importance of BRICS for South Africa’s own development trajectory, but indeed outline anticipated dividends for the growing partnership between BRICS and the African continent.

I am sure that you are all aware that the mobilisation of support for the African agenda is a key priority of South Africa’s foreign policy. President Zuma would like to ensure that our membership of BRICS also benefits the entire continent, and the Fifth BRICS Summit will constitute another high-level opportunity to further support key priority areas of the African agenda.

Minister Nkoana-Mashabane reaffirmed this approach in the New Age/SABC business briefing on 11 September 2012 and explained: “When South Africa joined BRICS, it was an affirmation of what South Africa has achieved and our objectives to build a better country and continent”.
BRICS represent 40% of the global population, approximately one fifth of global gross domestic product (GDP), estimated at US$13,7 trillion, as well as combined foreign reserves estimated at US$4,4 trillion. Undoubtedly, BRICS accounted for approximately 11% of global annual foreign direct investment (FDI) flows in 2012 (US$465 billion) and 17% of world trade.

On the economic front, the world views South Africa as a conduit into the African market. South Africa, as well as the African continent, is now emerging as one of the fastest growing markets with the potential of future growth due to the demographic basis underpinning this growth and the new consumer market that is emerging.

It is in this context that we should understand the global socio-economic and political significance of BRICS. The exponential growth potential of BRICS over the years to come will also impact considerably on the future of Emerging Markets and Developing Economies – especially in the case of Africa. We have referred in various addresses to an IMF study that indicated that the severity of the impact of the global financial crisis was weathered by Low Income Countries through their economic interaction with BRICS.

South Africa’s membership of BRICS contributes to further leveraging economic opportunities for our own development agenda as well as that of the continent.

Our interaction with BRICS is premised on three levels of engagement, firstly, national, where we advance our national interests as set out in the President’s State of the Nation Address; secondly, regional, where we promote regional integration and interaction with specific emphasis being placed on the AU mandate that was given to President Zuma to promote infrastructure development across the continent; and, thirdly, on a global level we advocate for a more inclusive global governance system. We also contribute to the grouping’s organisational design through our sectoral intra-BRICS cooperation.

Accordingly, our membership of BRICS must be understood within the context of what we wish to achieve against the current challenges we face as a country and a continent.

As part of the developing world, South Africa also faces the triple challenge of poverty, unemployment and inequality. BRICS Leaders already engage in peer learning and sharing best practices and development models, as relevant and appropriate. The Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh outlined ten specific issues at the New Delhi Summit of common concern to BRICS Leaders, such as job creation; skills upgrading; energy, food and water security; sustainable growth through expanded trade opportunities; clean energy; dealing with income inequality; dealing with challenges linked to urbanisation; and the impact of the external geo-political environment. You could easily mistake this inventory for a South African list, but this is indeed a shared BRICS narrative. It clearly confirms that our BRICS partners understand and also share our own developmental aspirations as well as those of Africa.

Linked to our developmental aspirations are our government’s efforts to identify key areas which will propel socio-economic development. In this regard, the government has identified key jobs drivers to help us achieve the much needed growth leading to job creation.

Due to the complex nature of our challenges, our government has singled out infrastructure development as a key vehicle for improving the quality of life and of providing a more focused access to basic services, competitiveness and jobs. Infrastructure is a critical ingredient to ensure an enabling environment for our regional integration and industrialisation processes. At the heart of these processes is the undertaking to improve the quality of life of our people.
As we draw closer to our hosting of the Fifth BRICS Summit, this membership becomes more critical than ever before because partners of the North and South remain important to propelling our economic growth and prosperity.

Our BRICS partners view us as a springboard into the Southern and broader African Region, and as a partner for economic development opportunities. At the New Delhi Summit, President Zuma met with BRICS Captains of Industry and invited the companies of the BRICS member states to join hands with South African companies in the development of Africa and pointed out that in the infrastructure sector alone, US$480 billion in investments will be required over the next 10 years.

BRICS Leaders already reflected support in the Sanya Declaration for infrastructure development in Africa and its industrialization within the framework of NEPAD. The Delhi Declaration further actualised such support and stated that BRICS Leaders “attach the highest importance to economic growth that supports development and stability in Africa, as many of these countries have not yet realised their full economic potential”. The Leaders pledged to take their cooperation forward to support their efforts to accelerate the diversification and modernisation of African economies, i.e. through infrastructure development, knowledge exchange and support for increased access to technology, enhanced capacity building, and investment in human capital, including within the framework of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD)”.

In conclusion, it could again be reflected that the quest for development is a shared human endeavor. While the development status of countries might differ, opportunities are endless for sharing of best practice and for real exchanges, as embodied by BRICS collaboration. In the case of BRICS, Minister Nkoana-Mashabane has emphasised on various occasions that this is not perceived in zero sum game theory terms as that which one party gains, another must forfeit, but as a new template for global governance based on joint global collaborative efforts to address common challenges of humanity.

In the case of South Africa, our foreign policy contends that South Africa’s national interests are better safeguarded by not just focusing on our own national interests, but broadly on the interests of our region and our Continent. This is how we believe BRICS can work for Africa because our fortunes are inextricably linked. It is for this very reason that we are pursuing regional integration with renewed vigor with the objective of linking SADC, EAC and COMESA in one large FTA. This initiative will provide economies of scale, larger markets and position us to better compete in the global economy. The BRICS economies, which already constitute between 20 and 25 per cent of global GDP, will link a large part of Africa with the fastest growing economies in the world. During the Fifth BRICS Summit, various business meetings will also take place and we anticipate progress on some of the exciting new projects that President Zuma proposed in New Delhi in March such as the proposed high capacity marine cable system linking the BRICS countries.

Politically, the BRICS partners, who share membership of other fora such as the G-20, or belong to our respective regional mechanisms, come together as vanguards of the UN system.

According to the latest trade figures released by the Department of Trade and Industry, bilateral trade between South Africa and the BRICS countries had increased substantially in 2011, powered by significant increases in exports. Bilateral trade between South Africa and China last year grew by 32%, trade with India by 25%, and trade with Brazil by 20%. In 2011, South African exports to China grew the most – at 46% – while exports to India grew by 20%, to Brazil by 14%, and to Russia by 7%.

Finally, I would like to also inform you of the exciting Feasibility Study which BRICS Leaders tasked their Finance Ministers to undertake in respect of setting up a new Development Bank for mobilizing resources for infrastructure and sustainable development projects in BRICS and other emerging economies and developing countries, to supplement the existing efforts of multilateral and regional financial institutions for global growth and development. Finance Ministers will deliver this report at the Fifth BRICS Summit. I can indicate that two meetings of technical expert working groups in this regard have already taken place in August and October 2012. While there have been various media commentaries speculating whether such an initiative is intended to rival existing Multilateral Development Banks, I can reassure that its intention is to provide additional and also “niche” financing where it is not available or forthcoming, notably for Emerging Markets and Developing Economies in sectors critical for attaining their developmental goals.

Economists from Standard Bank reflected on our BRICS membership and commented as follows: “With seats in the UNSC and G-20, South Africa’s voice travels far. Formally engulfing Africa in a wider South-South arc serves the BRICS ambitions to foster a South-South counter-narrative to advanced world dominance of global economic and political affairs” (26 January 2011).

I wish to add that South Africa, because of its unique history and independent foreign policy, brings its own particular perspective and experience into BRICS.

Address by Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Mr Ebrahim I Ebrahim, on the occasion of a Public Lecture titled, “Reflections on BRICS : Prospects for South Africa and Africa”, at the University of Johannesburg, Soweto Campus, 24 October 2012.

Sourced from the website of DIRCO:

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