While the opportunities for BRICS are clear, trade relations between South Africa and the West are essential to our economic well-being. Unfortunately, he writes, this does not seem obvious to those who represent us Plesso Mavuso.
The BRICS bloc presents a positive opportunity for South Africa. It is right for our government to establish relations with the BRICS countries. India and China in particular are huge and fast-growing markets that South African companies can benefit from.
However, our relationship with the BRICS countries should not come at the expense of our relations with the West. This is certainly evident.
While the opportunities in the East are clear, our trade relations with the West are essential to our economic well-being.
Unfortunately, this is not apparent to our representatives.
Last week, South Africa hosted the BRICS Youth Summit, a prelude to the major BRICS summit it will host in Sandton in late August.
We got off on the wrong foot.
I was surprised by the speech of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Minister in the Presidency of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities. Instead of focusing on the opportunities presented by South Africa’s relationship with the BRICS, its rhetoric instead focused on the BRICS as a way to “accelerate the downfall of an unjust imperialist world order”.
The speech was peppered with rhetoric that presented the BRICS as a competitive pole in the world against the West, rather than an alliance designed to promote development and cooperation among its members.
Ironically, in the same speech, Dlamini-Zuma bemoaned those who would rather ship raw materials than manufactured goods to the world.
It has not ceased to consider that our relations with India and China are greatly distinguished by the fact that South Africa exports raw materials and imports manufactured goods. I overlooked that it is Europe and the United States that import by far the majority of our manufactured goods, including vehicles and machinery made here, the kinds of goods that drive industrial activity and add more value to our economy.
Of course, this pattern of lower value-added exports to Asia is one that we must aim to change, shifting the mix of trade over time to more value-added goods.
But I don’t see how this can be achieved by alienating Western markets. In fact, we must use the manufacturing base supported by Western trade to improve our scale and competitiveness so that we can gain a competitive foothold in Asian markets for our manufactured goods.
Serious damage could be done to our industrial base if we collapsed the trade relationships that currently support it without any competitive access to new trade markets.
China, India and Brazil have huge populations which creates a huge potential demand for the goods that we can supply. But we need to be realistic about our approach to those opportunities, especially with China, which obviously has a huge appetite for mineral resources, but has a very competitive manufacturing capacity that SA is hard to compete with.
China is obviously interested in maintaining access to our raw materials, but our focus should be on creating opportunity for exports of value-added goods and services.
Russia, of course, presents entirely unique risks given its war with Ukraine and we must be careful not to imply that our relationship with the BRICS is pro-Russian.
To this end, it is positive that President Vladimir Putin will not attend the summit in person because his presence would have completely dominated the agenda and limited the chances of a positive outcome.
As we head toward the summit, I implore those who will represent our interests to do so strategically and with a clear vision of what will benefit us.
Hurting relations with the West by announcing the existence of the BRICS countries to confront the West in one way or another will do us no good at all. Instead, we should look forward to working with BRICS members to improve relationships and opportunities for our economies to trade with each other.
In particular, South Africa should focus on enabling greater export of its manufactured goods to other BRICS countries.
We should present BRICS as an opportunity to advance the economic development of member states, an outcome that the West and all of South Africa’s friends see positively. BRICS should be about creating opportunities for South Africa, not risks of poverty.
Busisiwe Mavuso is the CEO of Business Leadership South Africa. Follow her on Twitter @employee Read more of her opinion articles. News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse points of view. The opinions of the columnists published in News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.