Strategy and experience of South Africa in engaging within the BRICs and with other emerging countries – Thematic Issue: Emerging Economies and Africa

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    This article will present some of the international organisations and Forums that South Africa is a member of. South Africa’s engagement is motivated by a drive to proactively and concertedly strengthen strategic global partnerships, based on the pragmatic pursuit of our national, regional and global interests.

     The specific organisations and groupings that will be included as part of this article will be the Brazil, Russian Federation, India, China and South Africa (BRICs) inter-governmental forum; the India, Brazil, South Africa (IBSA) Dialogue Forum; the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), and; the Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt and South Africa (CIVETS) inter-governmental grouping.


    Based on earlier World Bank studies, Mr Jim O’Neill wrote a paper in 2001 entitled “Building Better Global Economic BRICs”. While his concept was intended to reflect emerging markets and investment opportunities, the acronym came to represent the shift in global economic power away from the developed G7 economies towards the developing world. When the first summit of “BRIC” took place in 2009, the South African Government, as the rest of the world, witnessed this new grouping with keen interest. The South African interest was primarly based on its shared views on the need to restructure the global political, economic and financial architecture to be more equitable, balanced and resting on the important pillars of multilateralism and international law. In December 2010, the BRICs current Chairperson from China invited South Africa to join the BRICs. 

    The South African Cabinet adopted its BRICs Strategy in September 2012. Key aspects of this Strategy have been highlighted in various policy addresses. The BRICs mechanism aims to achieve peace, security, development and cooperation. It also seeks to contribute significantly to the development of humanity and establish a more equitable and fair world. South Africa’s engagement with BRICs is premised on three levels: i) to advance its national interests as outlined in the President’s State of the Nation Address and relevant policy frameworks; ii) to promote its regional integration programme and related continental infrastructure and industrialisation programmes; and iii) to partner with key players of the South on issues related to the reform of the institutions of global governance in the relevant financial, economic and political spheres. Through our participation in the BRICs, we endeavour to further leverage economic opportunities for our own development agenda, as well as that of the African continent and work jointly towards reforms to ensure a more equitable international system.

    South Africa’s membership of BRICs has delivered tangible economic dividends. The negative trade balance with BRICs countries has increased, but the volume and strategic nature of our economic ties enable us to address pertinent issues, the BRICs Trade Ministers have for example commissioned a study to discuss trade related aspects. The Joint Trade Study will make recommendations to Trade Ministers on how to increase trade in value-added manufactured products among the five BRICs countries.

    Moreover, a 2011 IMF study, “New Growth Drivers for Low-Income Countries: The role of BRICs”, acknowledged that while industrialised countries remained the dominant partners of lower income countries (LICs), the LIC-BRICs ties increased so rapidly over the past decade that BRICs has become new growth drivers for LICs.

    The main outcomes of South Africa’s Chairpersonship of BRICs and its hosting of the Fifth BRICs Summit attest to our prioritisation of Africa as an integral part of our own developmental trajectory, i.e. the creation of the New Development Bank, the launch of the BRICs Business Council as well as the Think Tanks Council and the BRICs Leaders-Africa Dialogue Forum Retreat, which was hosted after the Summit where BRICs and African leaders could discuss continental infrastructure development programme.


    The IBSA Trilateral Dialogue Forum celebrated 10 years of existence in 2013. Premised on common values of democracy, respect for human rights and multi-culturalism, IBSA is underpinned by three pillars, namely i) political consultation and coordination; ii) multi-sectoral trilateral cooperation through technical working groups and various people-to-people fora, and; iii) concrete development projects of cooperation and partnership with less developed countries through the IBSA Facility for Hunger and Poverty alleviation (IBSA Fund). 

    Essentially, IBSA’s strategic focus is on its niche and identified areas of comparative advantage taking Strategic focus also includes continued IBSA co-operation in various global governance platforms such as ECOSOC, the Human Rights Council, the World Health Organisation, and the World Trade Organisation.

    Within the work of the second pillar, IBSA has continued to consolidate its respective working groups. People-to-people contact continues on a self-sustained path with intra-IBSA tourism, trade, cultural interaction and academic collaboration having solid momentum.

    The third pillar, the IBSA Fund against poverty and hunger, has made significant contribution to combat poverty in 12 developing countries across Asia, Africa and South America, where the IBSA projects have had great impact in the lives of recipient communities. Through its award winning1 finance and poverty alleviation model, the IBSA Fund carries symbolic significance in tackling challenges faced by the South as it is an innovative, high-impact intervention against poverty; despite its relativelly small actual contributions of US$1 million per annum by its members.


    The IORA was mooted by South Africa during an official visit by our late President Nelson Mandela to India in 1995. This proposal was presented in view of changing global geo-strategic developments and the increasing significance of the global common properties and their governance, in this case specifically referring to the Indian Ocean.

    The Association consists of 20 member states, all bordering the Indian Ocean and spread across the Middle East, Asia and Africa. In addition, IORA has six dialogue partners, China, France, the United Kingdom, Egypt, Japan and the United States of America, which presents further potential for collaboration on several mutually beneficial fronts such as research, joint projects within the priority areas and enterprise development. 

    The Association seeks to promote sustainable growth and balanced development in the region among member states, through economic dialogue and cooperation.

    The Ocean Economy, also known as the Blue Economy, holds much potential for all littoral member states of IORA. When IORA was established, the founding states were acutely conscious that the Indian Ocean is the world’s third largest ocean. It carries half of the world’s container ships, one third of the bulk cargo traffic and two thirds of the world’s oil shipments. It is a lifeline of international trade and economy. The region is woven together by these trade routes and commands control of major sea-lanes. It is rich in strategic and precious metals as well as other natural and valuable marine resources. It is also abundant in agricultural wealth, in terms of the variety and mass of arable land, with significant human resources and technological capabilities.

    The Special Fund of the Rim, to which dialogue partners contribute, enables member states to commit to various initiatives and projects to further develop cooperation in each of the six priority areas, namely: 

    (i) Maritime Safety & Security, 

    (ii) Trade & Investment Facilitation, 

    (iii) Fisheries Management, 

    (iv) Disaster Risk Management, 

    (v) Academic, Science & Technology,

    (vi) Tourism & Cultural Exchanges 

    Under Australia’s leadership, the promotion of women and children’s rights has been introduced as a cross-cutting feature of the priority areas. 

    The IORA is undertaking several interventions, such as reaching out to Global Governance role players and seeking mutual observer status with the African Union as well as with the UN and its affiliates.

    The successive leadership of the four G20 members of the Association, namely India until 2013, Australia until 2015, Indonesia until 2017 and South Africa until 2019 is serving to further inject impetus to IORA. 


    CIVETS was established in 2012 as the next frontier to advance the interests of the Global South. Colombia, in launching this forum, volunteered to lead the group. One of the main outcomes of the 2012 meeting was to advance the Development Cooperation agenda of the South and to explore possibilities of joint collaboration.

    CIVETS as a mini-lateral grouping can evolve into an active vehicle for members to engage with African countries. Given the existence of expertise and skills base in areas such as agriculture and food security (rice farming and aquaculture) of some of the members, and the opportunities for raw material and resources available in African countries, the potential for collaboration exists to commence with distinct economic development deliverables, thus creating a win-win for partners. 

    This Forum is an informal grouping. Taking into account that CIVETS is in its formative stages, it is important to assess and analyse the positions of its respective members. Initially the Dialogue was expected to provide an alternative model of development co-operation emanating from the South but within the space of one year, economic development is emerging as a priority.  

    Ambassador Anil Sooklal is Deputy Director-General Asia and the Middle East, BRICS Sous-Sherpa and IBSA and IORA Focal Point at the Department of International Relations  and Cooperation (DIRCO), South Africa.


    The IBSA fund won the 2010 UN Millennium Development Goal award for the efforts of fighting poverty and hunger amongst others.

    This article was published in GREAT Insights Volume 3, Issue 4 (April 2014)


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