Brics Summit 2023: lowdown on key issues as delegates get down to business

21 August 2023 - 15:12
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A view of the Sandton Convention Centre, which will host the Brics Summit.
A view of the Sandton Convention Centre, which will host the Brics Summit.
Image: JAMES OATWAY/Reuters

This week Sandton in Johannesburg becomes the stage for an international event that aims to redefine global trade patterns, as Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (Brics) meet for the 15th Brics Summit.

The bloc of developing economies has invited more than 70 middle-income economies to the event, where leaders are expected to discuss the potential expansion of the group’s membership to other countries. It takes place from this Tuesday to Thursday.

It is South Africa’s third time hosting the event, the last being in 2018.

The Brics Business Council on Tuesday will feature appearances from business leaders including Standard Bank CEO Sim Tshabalala, African Rainbow Minerals chair Patrice Motsepe and an address by Brics Business Council chair Busi Mabuza.

Briefing the country ahead of the summit on Sunday evening, President Cyril Ramaphosa said more than 20 countries have formally applied to join the Brics bloc while others have expressed an interest in joining. “South Africa supports the expansion of the membership of Brics. The value of Brics extends beyond the interests of its current members. For its efforts to be more effective, Brics needs to build partnerships with other countries that share its aspirations and perspectives,” said Ramaphosa.

According to the department of international relations and co-operation, South Africa’s trade with its Brics partners grew from R487bn in 2017 to R830bn in 2022.

SA Revenue Service figures show that so far in 2023 China has exported R214.7bn to the country and imported goods valued at R116.3bn. In 2022 the value of SA exports to China was R188.6bn compared to imports of R367.4bn.

Brazil exported goods to the value of R14.7bn to South Africa while its imports amounted to R5.1bn between January and June 2023.

In 2023, South Africa exported an estimated R45.3bn in goods to India, while India exported about R65.3bn to us. In 2021, South Africa imported R2.45bn in goods from Russia and exported R2.4bn.

The Brics bloc’s development finance institution, the New Development Bank (NDB), has made progress in providing finance to developing economies that are not Brics members and local currency financing.

NDB vice-president and CFO Leslie Maasdorp said its first bond issuance was concluded in 2016 in the Chinese Renminbi. “Since that first issuance, the bank has issued cumulatively RMB41bn of local currency bonds in China. The Bank is now in an advanced stage of launching its first bond issuance in rand. This will be done as part of its R10bn bond programme which is listed on the JSE,” Maasdorp said.

South Africa’s membership in Brics has proven challenging for its diplomatic position in the global community, not least because of Russia’s war in Ukraine. US congressmen have even advocated for South Africa’s removal from the African Growth and Opportunity Act over its position on the war.

Ahead of the summit, the International Criminal Court reaffirmed that as a signatory to its Rome statutes, South Africa would be obliged to arrest Russian President Vladimir Putin for war crimes if he came to South Africa. According to the Presidency, Putin has ultimately opted to participate in the Brics summit virtually from Russia instead of attending in person. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov will attend the summit in person instead.

On this matter, Ramaphosa said the experience of African states during the Cold War convinced the government of the need to “seek strategic partnerships with other countries rather than be dominated by any other country”.

“Our country is committed to a policy of nonalignment. We have resisted pressure to align ourselves with any of the global powers or with influential blocs of nations,” Ramaphosa said.

During the Brics Summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping will have an official visit to South Africa where he and Ramaphosa will hold bilateral discussions aside from his participation in the summit itself.

Members of cabinet including trade minister Ebrahim Patel and electricity minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa are expected to participate in events including the Brics trade fair and engagements aimed at boosting energy sector co-operation.


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