South Africa possible new BRIC member

[Image] President Jacob Zuma could soon be
sharing the stage with (from l to r)
Presidents Dmitry Medvedev, Luiz
Inácio Lula da Silva, Hu Jintao, and
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
(Image: Wikimedia)

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Janine Erasmus

South Africa may be poised to join the BRIC group of nations – Brazil, Russia, India and China – after both the Russian and Indian heads of state expressed their support for the move.

The BRIC group, also known as the Big Four, is a powerful economic alliance of the four fast-growing nations, two of which have the biggest populations of any country on earth.

At a function in South Africa earlier in August 2010, held to mark the Indian day of independence on the 15th, India’s newly appointed high commissioner to the country, Virendra Gupta, said that his government desired the development of more opportunities for close collaboration with South Africa.

Such collaboration, he said, would strengthen the two countries’ already close ties. Besides being home to one of the largest Indian communities off the subcontinent, South Africa also exports vast amounts of coal to India, recording an export increase of 74% in July 2010.

Precious stones, steel, minerals and fertilisers are also highly sought-after commodities. Incoming goods include computer software, pharmaceuticals and textiles.

The two countries also share a strong historical link. Indians first arrived in South Africa in November 1860, 150 years ago, and their descendants have played an important part in the country’s sporting, legal, social and economic development as well as in the fight for freedom. The renowned Indian political and spiritual leader Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi lived in South Africa between 1893 and 1915.

“As important developing countries, we have much to talk about; much to consult about and coordinate,” said Gupta. “The Indian government attaches a high priority to very close connections, both at bilateral level and at the regional multi-lateral level, that is, in the G20 forum and in the IBSA forum.”

He added that the Indian government hoped that “South Africa will be able to join BRIC in the not too distant future”.

Russian support

His sentiments were echoed by Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, who voiced his support for South Africa’s inclusion during South African President Jacob Zuma’s Russian visit in August. The South African president was accompanied by a high-level delegation of business and political leaders.

It was Zuma’s first official visit to the northern country since his inauguration in 2009. The president is an avid campaigner for South Africa’s BRIC membership, and visited Brazil in April and India in June 2010. At the time of writing he was wrapping up his BRIC crusade with a visit to China.

At a press conference Medvedev said that South Africa’s participation in BRIC proceedings would be advantageous, since the group is an alliance of fast-growing nations, of which South Africa is one. Russia is the world’s biggest producer of gas, and South Africa is the most powerful economy on the African continent.

The two leaders discussed the situation at a meeting before speaking to the media.

We are prepared to develop various forms of cooperation with our South African partners, including in the BRIC format,” said Medvedev, but he cautioned that this would not happen unless the views of all BRIC members were in accord.

While South African trade with Russia is nowhere near the levels of that with India and China, the latter being South Africa’s biggest export destination with trade in 2009 valued at US$16-billion (R119.7-billion), a stronger liaison between the two countries would boost economic exchange.

India, Brazil and South Africa also make up the IBSA group. However, it is unlikely that the two groups would merge. Earlier in 2010 Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that IBSA and BRIC were two entirely different entities.

“IBSA has a personality of its own,” said Singh in April. ”It is three separate continents, three democracies. BRIC is a concept devised by Goldman Sachs.”

Powerful alliance

Economist Jim O’Neill, of the investment banking firm Goldman Sachs, coined the BRIC acronym in 2001.

The Brazil, Russia, India and China group contributes a massive 16.5% to the global GDP and together cover 25% of the earth’s land area. Nearly half the world’s population – 43% – call these countries home.

A recent Goldman Sachs projection states that China has the potential to supersede the US as the world’s biggest economy by 2027. In this scenario the US would be second on the list, followed by India, Brazil and Russia.

By 2050, according to Goldman Sachs, the economies of the BRIC powerhouse could be greater than the combined economies of the world’s current richest nations.

The Goldman Sachs BRIC report may be downloaded (PDF, 3.4MB).

The first official BRIC summit took place in June 2009 in Yekaterinburg, Russia, with a second meeting in Brasilia in April 2010.