Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition)
Plotting a path for BRICS era
SA in the driving seat useful to ushering in the 4th Industrial Revolution, writes Anil Sooklal
THE Republic of South Africa first hosted a Summit of the BRICS Forum in 2013, in Durban, two years after we joined this eminent platform of emerging markets and developing countries.
Since its inception, BRICS’s performance has gone from strength to strength and has surpassed the initial expectations of members and observers alike.
The marking of a decade of co-operation at the level of heads of state and government (which is to say, summits) is thus an important aspect of South Africa chairing in 2018, and we intend to use the 10th BRICS Summit to chart the path for the next chapter of meaningful and impactful BRICS co-operation.
As a member, and in pursuit of national and regional objectives, South Africa intends to maximise its chairship of BRICS in 2018 to derive tangible co-operation results for our partners, our continent and the developing community more broadly. In particular, this co-operation should allow us all to better navigate the transition into the 4th Industrial Revolution, and to benefit from shared prosperity in this new reality, rather than to be overwhelmed by its effects.
Our objectives during our first tenure of presidency were modest but emphatic in their intention to contribute to the institutional agenda of the BRICS Forum. The platforms that we proposed in 2013, including the BRICS Think Tanks Council (BTTC) and the BRICS Business Council (BBC) have gained traction and have been fully embraced and strengthened by the efforts of all members over the years. These have become positive platforms of knowledge generation and knowledge sharing, as well as for the formulation of responsive answers to the questions posed to us by the unfolding modern realities.
Furthermore, the New Development Bank (NDB) truly took form in 2013, in the discussions under South Africa’s chairship. Along with the Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA), these are considered the flagship institutions of BRICS co-operation.
Our theme in 2013, namely, “BRICS and Africa: Partnership for Development, Integration and Industrialisation”, articulated an objective that we still hold as imperative today; that being, to use our participation in BRICS to enjoin BRICS and Africa in development co-operation and to advocate for the support of BRICS members for Africa and its endogenous regional policy objectives.
Of course, we began weaving the African Agenda into BRICS Declarations as soon as we joined the forum at the 2011 Sanya Summit. However, it was important to ensure that the sentimental support was buttressed by a practical and tangible articulation of this support.
Thus, subsequent to our arranging an Outreach Dialogue between African and BRICS leaders in 2013, the BRICS leaders mandated that the first regional centre of the New Development Bank would be in Africa and would be established concurrently to the NDB headquarters, South Africa is delighted to have delivered on the mandate given to us by our African partners. The Africa Regional Centre was launched in August 2017 and, although at a nascent stage, it has commenced its work and has credible plans in place to facilitate infrastructure and industrial development projects on the continent.
South Africa was the first to initiate these Outreach Dialogues and our BRICS partners have all given momentum to this initiative through the outreach summits they have hosted since 2013. We will bring this initiative full circle this year, when President Cyril Ramaphosa again hosts the BRICS-Africa Outreach, during the 10th BRICS summit. Additional to this, we have invited representative leaders from the Global South for an interaction in the BRICS Plus format.
As much as the agenda of BRICS is driven by consensus, South Africa in its part is pleased to have made notable and valuable contributions over the years. South Africa’s current presidency, as with those of our partners in the past, has been anchored in two approaches, namely ensuring continuity for the projects and programmes that are in place, and carrying those successfully forward; while keeping innovation in mind and making space for new areas and ways of co-operation.
This means that, during our chairship, we will preside over an annual calendar of events that comprises more than one hundred sectoral meetings. In this regard, the meetings of the BRICS Sherpas and Sous-Sherpas are particularly valuable, as they provide the first point of consultation among our countries and are instrumental in building consensus around ideas that subsequently become BRICS projects and programmes.
We have hosted three meetings of the BRICS Sherpas and SousSherpas in the Western Cape, Limpopo and Gauteng, respectively. These meetings not only gave our partners three unique and multidimensional offerings of our country but, more importantly, we caucused our key chairship deliverables and proposals, which received resounding support. These include: the establishment of a BRICS Vaccine Research Centre; the establishment of a BRICS Peacekeeping Working Group; the establishment of a BRICS Women’s Forum; BRICS Tourism Co-operation; and Leveraging the Strategy for BRICS Economic Partnership towards the pursuit of Inclusive Growth and Advancing the 4th Industrial Revolution. All of these represent an effort to provide responses to political, economic and socia challenges and realities.
In addition to the Sherpas’ meetings, we have hosted various high-level engagements and Ministerial Meetings. These include, but are not limited to, an Anti-Corruption Working Group Meeting (February 2018); the 17th Meeting of the Contact Group on Economic and Trade Issues (February 2018); the 9th Technical National Statistics Offices (March 2018); Counter-Terrorism Working Group (April 2018); Security in the Use of ICTs (May 2018); Meeting of BRICS Environment Ministers (May 2018); and the Meeting of the Energy Working Group (May 2018).
Furthermore, the BRICS Ministers of Foreign Affairs/ International Relations met on June 4, 2018. The ministers’ discussions reinforced the core values that brought BRICS countries together – including the safe-guarding of the UN and its Charter and upholding multilateral co-operation. In the face of the current global realities, including the turn by some international players towards unilateralism and protectionism, these values have become even more important and BRICS must lead the way in their protection and further entrenchment.
A global world order that is based on equity and fairness depends on this. The ministers’ meeting was equally demonstrative of the manner in which the BRICS are, and must continue to be, responsive to global developments and realities as they unfold.
The BRICS Envoys (deputy ministers) on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) will meet soon (June 20-21) and will similarly be grappling with burgeoning international crises in this complex region, and forging BRICS consensus in responding to these.
These meetings, and those to come, are laying the path to the
10th BRICS Summit and constitute the sectoral backbone of the upcoming meetings of the BRICS Leaders. Further meetings will be held throughout the year, until the conclusion of the South African chairship in December.
Currently, in addition to being seized with their sectoral work, South African national departments and stakeholders are in the process of consolidating the Johannesburg Summit Declaration, which will be a comprehensive and reflective outcomes document.
The Declaration will speak to the key issues that we are driving this year, particularly the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and of the areas of shared importance for BRICS countries. As always, BRICS will consider the international realities and endeavour to collectively respond to those.
South Africa is honoured and takes seriously its responsibilities as chair of BRICS.
We look forward to welcoming the leaders and delegates of BRICS, Africa and other emerging markets and developing countries to South Africa in July; and to continuing the legacy and spirit of Nelson Mandela in our efforts.
Professor Sooklal is the Dirco DDG for Asia Middle East. He is also the South African BRICS Sherpa