President Cyril Ramaphosa criticised countries that act unilaterally in trade deals and discount World Trade Organisation rules in his opening address at the Brics Business Forum in Sandton on Wednesday afternoon.
"We are meeting here, ladies and gentlemen, at a time when the multilateral trading system is facing unprecedented challenges. We are concerned by the rise in unilateral measures that are incompatible with World Trade Organisation rules, and we are worried about the impact of these measures, especially as they impact on developing countries and economies," said Ramaphosa.
"These developments call for thorough discussion on the role of trade in growing and promoting sustainable development, particularly in inclusive growth," he said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, who spoke after Ramaphosa, said that protectionism was on the rise.
"Unilateralism and protectionism are mounting, dealing a severe blow to multilateralism and the multilateral trading regime. We are facing a choice between cooperation and confrontation, between [an] opening up and a closed doors policy, between future benefits and the beggar-thy-neighbour approach. The international community has indeed reached a new cross roads," said Xi, whose speech was directly translated into English.
China - the largest of the five Brics countries, has been locked in an ongoing trade war over tariffs with the US since President Donald Trump raised duties on billions of dollars worth of Chinese exports.
Xi and Ramaphosa's remarks on trade were in line with what has been said at previous discussion panels at the summit.
On Tuesday Chen Siqing, chairperson of the Bank of China, said Brics cooperation would be a "solution to [the] challenge of de-globalisation", while Leslie Maasdorp, vice-president and chief financial officer at the New Development Bank - commonly known as the Brics Bank - said globalisation was "irreversible" and the protectionist path adopted by the US will only see the country become more isolated.
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