A Bric to build on

2011-03-12 13:45

South Africa has much to offer and gain from emerging ­economies such as those of Brazil, Russia, India and ­China – dubbed the Bric ­countries – that currently make up about 42% of the world’s economy.

Even though South Africa does not share ­certain characteristics with these ­countries, such as close-to-double digit growth numbers and large populations, the country still has a great deal to offer.

This year, Brazil’s economy is forecast to grow between 5.5% and 6%, China by 10%, India by 7% and Russia by 5.5%; while South Africa looks set to ­experience growth of about 3% to 4% by 2013.

South Africa has punched above its weight in forcing its way into Bric but it boasts globally competitive companies that are leaders in their fields.

This ­country, with a population of about 50 million people, lays claim to 25 ­companies listed on the Forbes top-2 000 companies in the world.

We are a country with a great ­abundance of natural resources, paired with talented human resources and ­intellectual capital that has catapulted our financial services industry into ­competing with the best in the world.

We do, of course, need to develop and rejuvenate some of the country’s ­essential markets, such as the ­manufacturing and agricultural ­industries.

But, by engaging with the Bric nations and becoming part of that group, the country will be able to leverage ­relationships and trade with these large economies.

The benefits of this will not only ­manifest in economic growth, but should translate into opportunities for ­employment and entrepreneurship.

This will enhance ­social ­development and ­poverty ­alleviation as more South ­Africans grasp new ­opportunities for ­better livelihoods and ­dignity.

As we join Bric, we should not forget our trading partners in North America, Europe and other developed economies, and we should not necessarily ­compromise our national interests.

It’s clear enough that Bric membership strengthens South Africa’s position as Africa’s economic powerhouse and eases access to key economies.Clearly, we need to work hard and smart to optimise the opportunities that such membership affords us.

We should also dispel the notion that South Africa was a natural choice to complete the Bric unit owing to its ­economic strength, especially in the ­context of the African continent.

The belief that South Africa was only invited to join Bric in order to facilitate members’ access to Africa is a myth too.

After all, not only is China already South Africa’s second-biggest trading partner; but it also has active trading partners across the length and breadth of the continent.

But it’s a battlefield out there and South Africa needs to strike a balance between being protective of its national interests and cooperative in driving ­markets, to create a competitive and ­sustainable economy.

To draw South Africa into this ­powerful club underlines the country’s growing international role and its future significance for those who want to make use of expanding African opportunities.

It is, in fact, an association that not only benefits the group, but the emerging world and Africa in particular.

Bric membership could also underpin South Africa’s growing role as a strategic and influential player in global politics, as evinced by and noted in President Jacob Zuma’s state of the nation ­address:

» South Africa’s resumption of a ­non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council since January 1 this year;

» The country serving a two-year term on the African Union Peace and Security Council;

» Chairing the SADC Organ on ­Politics, Defence and Security from August;

» Continuing with a mediatory role in Zimbabwe and seeking to lend support to find peaceful ­solutions in Tunisia, ­Ivory Coast and Egypt;

Hosting the 17th conference of the Parties to the UN Framework on Climate Change in Durban in December;

Hosting the fifth India-Brazil-South Africa Summit this year; and

» Perhaps the most topical and ­important achievement, joining the Bric ­nations, which now become Brics, at the ­inaugural meeting to be held in China next month.

Brics membership offers a great ­opportunity for South African companies given the ­maturity of the country’s ­financial ­services sector and the ­evolution of products that are now ­transportable into other economies.

»  Dlamini is CEO of Old Mutual SA and Old Mutual Emerging Markets 

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