Building capacity to help Africa trade better

BRICS membership opens opportunities


BRICS membership opens opportunities

BRICS membership opens opportunities
Vehicles export in Durban transnet prot terminal. Photo credit: Simphiwe Mbokazi

This week the heads of state of four of the largest economies in the world – collectively representing a fifth of global gross domestic product (GDP) – arrive in Durban for the fifth BRICS summit, each accompanied by delegations representing some of the most dynamic multinational corporations.

These dynamics put an end to any doubts about the relevance of the BRICS grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa as a whole, and indeed South Africa’s place in it. For those alive to the shifts in global geopolitics and commerce, this week presents profound opportunities.

The meeting takes place as the collective power of the developing world rises. Last year, emerging markets’ collective GDP increased by 7.4 percent to $29 trillion (R270 trillion), only marginally lower than total Group of Seven (G7) output of $33 trillion. This narrowing gap is remarkable considering that, just five years ago, G7 output was twice the size of emerging markets’ output.

Part of the emerging world’s resilience is explained by the way developing economies have turned to each other to offset the softness in demand from the advanced world.

In this regard, BRICS has been pioneering. Last year, trade between the five BRICS members totalled $310 billion, up from $28bn in 2002. Today, intra-BRICS trade accounts for almost a fifth of BRICS total trade with emerging markets, up from just 13 percent in 2008. In contrast, BRICS actually traded less with the EU last year than in 2008.

BRICS-Africa trade volumes have also risen profoundly. We estimate that BRICS-Africa trade hit $340bn last year, up more than 10 times over a decade. This means that, last year, BRICS-Africa trade was 10 percent larger than total intra-BRICS trade, a staggering statistic when one considers the collective GDP of the BRICS (of roughly $15 trillion) is almost seven times larger than Africa’s collective GDP.

Since 2007, during a period of relatively slow trade growth globally, BRICS-Africa trade has more than doubled. Looking ahead, we hold firm to our projection that BRICS-Africa trade will eclipse $500bn by 2015.

Investment ties have been broadly commensurate. While the total fixed investment by the BRICS in Africa is difficult to ascertain, Chinese Minister of Commerce Shen Danyang recently confirmed that the country’s total foreign direct investment stock in Africa at the end of last year was $20bn, complementing the roughly $30bn in concessional loans extended by Beijing to African states since the century began.

For Brazil, flagship investments such as that led by Vale in the coal-rich Tete province in Mozambique have captured attention. As with China, large investments in Africa have often been facilitated by credit offered to Brazilian companies by the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES). In Angola alone, BNDES credit has surpassed $3bn. And for India, private multinationals have been exceptionally successful in building a footprint in east and southern Africa.

South Africa’s benefits from BRICS engagement are large. Last year, South Africa’s exports to emerging markets grew by almost 50 percent.

South Africa’s trade with the BRICS economies rose from a mere 5 percent of our total trade with the world a decade ago to almost 20 percent now.

Last year, South Africa’s exports to fellow BRICS economies rose almost 17 percent, the fastest rate of export growth within the group.

South Africa’s commercial footprint in the rest of Africa is also maturing swiftly. South Africa’s trade with the rest of Africa touched $35bn last year.

Importantly, about half of South Africa’s total exports to Africa comprise value-added capital goods. South Africa’s success in securing market share within key Southern African Development Community (SADC) economies has been powerful. Last year South Africa was the largest import partner for nine out of the 13 SADC states.

South Africa’s investment stock in the rest of Africa has swelled, from R14.7bn in 2001 to R121bn in 2010.

More broadly, the BRICS affiliation gives South Africa a solid scaffold to recalibrate its growth potential. South Africa offers logistical access to the SADC market, as well as legal, financial and management support to firms looking to grow their African presence.

Already, South African firms across a variety of industries enjoy meaningful strategic relationships with BRICS partners. This week, it is likely that a variety of significant deals will be signed on the sidelines of the summit.

BRICS inclusion also gives South Africa an opportunity to build consensus among key African partners around areas of geopolitical and commercial importance. South Africa has Africa’s foremost market economy and is sufficiently capacitated to sketch an African programme. At the same time, South Africa’s leaders are aware of the delicate diplomacy required in casting an inclusive African agenda.

Meanwhile, the concerns raised by President Jacob Zuma and Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies around the structural imbalances inherent in South Africa’s trade with China echo across Africa. Building more sustainable ties within the BRICS could help steer broader BRICS-Africa engagements.

The BRICS states’ superior economic and negotiating might bears heavily when constructing bilateral deals with smaller African states. South Africa’s regional approach to BRICS will aid more constructive and lasting links.

Though still a relatively loose political grouping, BRICS as a commercial collective wields significant influence.

The symbolism of this gathering on African soil is vast. The rise of BRICS represents a shift towards a more multi-polar, and representative global economy. The substance for launching another wave of African ambition, in partnership with 21st century leaders, is mammoth. It should not be lost on anyone.

Ballim is Standard Bank’s chief economist. Freemantle is a senior analyst and the head of Standard Bank’s African political economy unit.


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