South Africa fits Brics like a glove

2011-01-22 12:53

The world we live in today has changed significantly since the end of the Cold War.

A new group of economically influential countries such as Brazil, Russia, India and China (Bric) are on the ascendancy, and are remapping the contours of political and economic power in the global system.

South Africa’s membership of Brics should be located within this context.

From the inception of Bric, divergent views and opinions were expressed about the original four members.

They were analysed by pundits and early conclusions were that they did not fit together.

Yet over time and with the two summits that Bric held in Brazil and Russia these pessimistic views began to change.

South Africa’s membership of Brics (as it will be referred to) should at least be measured by three factors?

– the imperatives of a diversified foreign policy; the substantive agenda that Brics has set for itself; and the other important attributes that South Africa possesses which will allow it to make a significant contribution to the Brics agenda.

Foreign policymaking in the 21st century is a multidimensional endeavour as states use different avenues to pursue their various interests.

There are issues that can best be addressed only through bilateral contacts and there are others that require plurilateral and multilateral forums – this is not contradictory.

The types of formations through which states organise themselves also evolve over time as evident from the emergence, in the past few years, of the Group of 20 and Bric itself.

It is perhaps when we examine the substantive agenda of the Bric countries that we begin to realise that South Africa fits.

The 2010 Bric Summit Joint Statement focused on the reform of global governance, the work of the G20, international trade, development, energy and climate change.

These are issues of global concern which have been an important component of South Africa’s foreign policy for many years.

On global governance South Africa, India and Brazil seek to be permanent members of a reformed United Nations Security Council, to which Russia and China already belong.

All five countries are advocates of reform of the international financial institutions.

Beyond the global issues, South Africa could benefit from the concrete projects of Brics in areas such as agriculture, science, statistics, development finance institutions, security and justice.

While the discourse on Brics has focused on the sizes of the economies, populations and future projections of stature, there are other important attributes which South Africa brings to the group.

The 2010/11 Global Competitiveness Report of the World Economic Forum ranks South Africa favourably in relation to the other Bric countries.

The 2010 United Nations Conference on Trade and Development World Investment Report puts South Africa in the top 20 of priority economies for foreign direct investment in the world.

Among developing countries we are still the biggest investor on the African continent.

This means that, although our economy is small in relation to other Brics members, we have attributes that have positioned us well in the world and which will allow us to bring special insights into the work of Brics.

It also goes without saying that since our foreign policy prioritises the African continent we are uniquely placed to bring the African perspective to the many global forums in which we participate.

That there are challenges that face Brics is without doubt.

The challenge is now for all of us to marshall our collective intellectual and strategic capacities, and creatively respond to the exciting opportunities that these challenges present.

We want to demystify the notion that we are being fashionable in pursuing relations with our partners of the South, by reminding South Africans that the seeds of South-South cooperation were laid at the 1955 Bandung Conference, when African and Asian nations cemented political and cultural ties.

But of course, as the South African government, we are also aware that history has marched on.

The age of globalisation requires that we elevate these partnerships to a different level, building on the wells of goodwill and solidarity, and generate mutually beneficial economic relations.

We share similar perspectives about the reform of global governance, in particular the imperative for enhanced representation and a voice for developing countries in decision-making processes.

Significantly, we share a common view that multilateralism and a rules-based global governance mechanism is the best guarantor of stability, and provides a better framework for asserting our values and interests.

However, while deepening our relations with countries on our continent and emerging powers, South Africa will continue to strengthen the partnerships that we have with countries of the North.

At another level, we see the formation of Ibsa (India, Brazil and South Africa) and our membership of that body as a mechanism not only for enhancing our trilateral partnership with India and Brazil, but also as an important pillar for strengthening the muscle of the South in global affairs.

We believe that Ibsa will have a better balance, and become even stronger, now with South Africa as a full member of Brics.

The reality of emerging powers is here to stay.

The economic centre of gravity is shifting to the South.

While some will view this trend as a basis for building a strong and working multipolar world, others may see it as a threat.

The global system requires that we work on managing global interdependencies and strengthen cooperation in order to overcome common challenges related to development, climate change, energy security, and trade and finance.

» Nkoana-Mashabane is minister of international relations and cooperation 

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