Earlier this year, on March 26 and 27, Durban was abuzz with the sound of sirens ferrying heads of state, ministers and other dignitaries from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa to the 5th Brics Summit. The Summit ended on a high note with the South African president announcing that the leaders of 43 per cent of the world’s population decided, on advice from their ministers of finance, that the Brics Development Bank was both feasible and viable. This is the most significant outcome of the summit. Its establishment forms part of a process of consolidation of the Brics through the creation of institutions. This means that a development bank is to be created by — and for the needs of — developing countries. Much work remains to be done to decide on how it is to be financed, where it will be located and what financial contribution each country will have to make to make the idea a reality.
The summit also decided to establish a Contingent Reserve Mechanism, which will assist Brics nations to give each other mutual support in times of economic and financial stress. This mechanism will provide Brics and other developing countries with an additional financial line of defence against the uncertainties currently prevailing in the world economic system.
The establishment of a Development Bank is a significant step forward to find new sources of financing for infrastructure development. However, at the summit, a Brics Business Council was also formalised. Representatives from nearly 600 business entities from the Brics attended the inaugural Business Forum meeting.
Trade among the Brics nations have been increasing rapidly in recent years. The Brics nations intend to increase trade levels to $500 billion (Dh1.83 trillion) by 2015, in keeping with the agreement from the previous Business Forum in India. The Business Forum is, therefore, an important platform that can improve the quality of trade among member states. The Brics Business Council also emphasised the need for support for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in their respective countries. As developing nations, each country has its own unique internal economic challenges. A Business Forum of this nature can add tremendous value to each economy by opening new opportunities for trade, investment, sharing of knowledge and building on collective expertise.
A further notable outcome of the summit pertains to the work of the Contact Group on Economic and Trade Issues (CGETI). The contact group focuses on the promotion of trade, investment and economic cooperation among the Brics members. CGETI encourages trade and investment links between Brics countries and it emphasises industrial complementarities, sustainable development and inclusive growth. CGETI furthermore works to share policy practices on trade and investment among the member states. According to the official statement released by the group, it will, in particular, work on multilateral cooperation and coordination; the promotion and facilitation of trade and investment; to foster cooperation on innovation; to create platforms for SME cooperation and to cooperate on infrastructure and industrial development.
But, the Brics Summit was about more than just banks and finance mechanisms to be created. While the formal Brics Summit focused on the question of support to African infrastructure development, and integration, the heads of state visiting South Africa, also inked several new bilateral agreements with South Africa. The importance of Africa gaining from South Africa’s membership of Brics was illustrated by the meeting between Brics and African heads of state, hosted by South African President Jacob Zuma.
The summit also presented an opportunity for bilateral, country-to-country, talks to be held. Among others, a significant agreement between the Chinese state oil company, Sinopec, and its South African counterpart, PetroSA, was signed. This framework agreement forms the basis for cooperation in project Mthombo that will include cooperation in exploration and upstream activities in South Africa and surrounding countries. This agreement also takes the two entities closer to realising the construction of the biggest crude oil refinery on the African continent in the Coega Industrial Development Zone.
To ensure that trade between the Brics nations is safe, a Trade and Development Risk Pool is to be established as a sustainable and alternative source of insurance and reinsurance for the Brics countries. Trade in an integrated and globalised world economy relies on communications. In order to facilitate communications between the Brics members, a new high-capacity, 28,400km undersea cable, linking the Brics countries, will remove their dependence on developed countries as interconnection points.
While China and South Africa celebrate 15 years of formal ties this year, South Africa and the Russian Federation also signed the Durban Declaration for Strategic Partnership. A Presidential Bilateral Mechanism is to be established, defining areas to guide the SA-Russia Strategic Partnership. Nine agreements were signed between Russia and South Africa. These covered agriculture, art and culture, defence, education, energy, fisheries, mining, science and technology and transport. These agreements are an important step forward to deepen and revitalise a relationship that has stood the test of time.
One concrete outcome of the agreements is the launch of the Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) Centre between South Africa’s Denel and Russian Helicopters. The MRO Centre is the first ever accredited centre for the repair and maintenance of Russian helicopters in Africa. This will bring new skills and open new job opportunities in South Africa’s already advanced aeronautics industry.
While South Africa signed new agreements with Russia, the China-South Africa relationship was also boosted by a renewal of relations. Among other things the leaders of the two nations decided to designate 2014 as the ‘Year of South Africa’ in China and 2015 as the ‘Year of China’ in South Africa. A series of events will be held by the two sides. In South Africa, there is a critical need for skills development and further training. In this regard, the countries agreed to cooperate in human resources. China is set to provide more training opportunities to the South Africans, especially employment-oriented training and cooperation for South African youth. Further cooperation in the fields of basic and higher education will strengthen exchange and facilitate the sharing of research output between the countries.
President Zuma indicated that latest archaeological research revealed that the Kingdom of Mapungubwe in Limpopo province, a Unesco World Heritage Site, had contacts with China nine centuries ago. Colonialism, imperialism and apartheid disrupted contacts. Relations with China, therefore, pre-date western colonial expansion and this spate of agreements between the two countries sets them on a path to increased interaction, trade and shared learning in the coming decades.
Mpetjane Kgaogelo Lekgoro is South Africa Ambassador to the UAE.