With interaction between BRICS countries increasing and trade rising, the grouping of Brazil, Russia, India China and South Africa is transforming from a loose economic category into a global governance institution - with significant benefits for South Africa.

BRICS-Flags BRICS is looking to transform itself from an economic concept into a governing institution, which could make the organisation a global powerhouse in coming years. (DIRCO)


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Shamin Chibba

BRICS, the group of emerging nations comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, is transforming itself from a loose economic category to a global governance institution. Just how the countries will interact with each other was the question discussed at the Brand South Africa BRICS Research Roundtable in Johannesburg on Wednesday 30 September.

The conversation focused on the outcomes of the Seventh BRICS Summit held in Ufa, Russia, in July this year, one of which was the institutionalisation of BRICS. This, said Brand South Africa's general manager of research, Petrus de Kock, could deepen ties between the five nations.

Interaction between BRICS members has increased over the last six years, with commitments rising from 15 to 68 between 2009 and 2014. And when it comes to implementation, the group has outdone itself. "Based on research conducted by the BRICS Research Group, and other analysts, the BRICS have achieved a 70% implementation rate in terms of implementing summit decisions," De Kock said.

This, he said, indicated progress, and that all member states were buying in to the grouping.

Petrus Brand South Africa general manager for research, Petrus de Kock, says South Africa has benefited financially and politically since joining BRICS in 2011.

Mandy Rutgers, head of communications at the Gauteng Growth and Development Agency - the co-host of the roundtable - said BRICS had been the engine powering the world's economic recovery after the 2008 financial crisis.

Another sign that relations are at a high is that Russia and China have openly backed South Africa, India and Brazil to play an increased role on the UN Security Council.

South Africa is reaping the financial benefits of BRICS membership: total trade with its peers increased from around R90-billion in 2010 to nearly R150-billion in 2014.

Catherine Grant Makokera, trade negotiator and senior associate at Tutwa Consulting, said trade between BRICS nations was still mainly bilateral, and could improve further. China, she said, benefited most from the grouping. "At the moment, it's a hub-and-spoke configuration with China in the middle. Trade between the other four is still fairly limited."

Rutgers Mandy Rutgers, head of communications at the Gauteng Growth and Development Agency, credits BRICS for tugging the global economy out of the 2008 recession.

Bring more Chinese to our shores

Garth Shelton, professor of international relations at Wits University, said China would likely make up most of the 70% implementation rate cited by the BRICS Research Group.

For this reason, he said, South Africa should take advantage of five Chinese growth factors predicted for the next 10 years. These are:

Shelton said South Africa should work on attracting more Chinese investors and tourists by, for example, providing information in Mandarin – as Mozambique now does – and offering more entertainment.

South Africa should also develop a special Chinese economic zone to attract investment and new skills, Shelton said. It should also improve transport infrastructure for goods. Chinese colleagues of his, he said, had suggested that building a railway to Kenya would boost South Africa's economy.