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Opinion
Mutual Benefits
BRICS and Africa have the chance to forge long-term economic partnerships
By Garth Shelton | NO.30 JULY 26, 2018

Officials from China and African countries share development and poverty reduction experiences at a seminar during the 38th UN Human Rights Council meeting on July 3 in Geneva, Switzerland (XINHUA)

China's economic rise and the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) economic association have provided the African continent with a range of new development partners and opportunities unmatched in its post-colonial history. Africa's strategic engagement with BRICS offers a unique chance to promote a new and innovative development path. BRICS investments and infrastructure development programs are expected to underpin and promote continued economic growth in Africa through a process of expanded South-South cooperation. As the only African BRICS member, South Africa is expected to facilitate greater African engagement with the BRICS process and especially with the New Development Bank (NDB) which can facilitate accelerated economic development in Africa and the Global South.

At the BRICS Summit in Johannesburg in July, South Africa will strengthen and expand the BRICS system by inviting other African and developing countries to contribute and participate through the BRICS dialogue system and the BRICS Plus process. South Africans are keen for BRICS to advance industrialization and infrastructure construction and facilitate Africa's full participation in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Other areas where South Africans are hoping for progress include BRICS cooperation on peacekeeping in Africa, the promotion of gender equality, and intra-BRICS tourism, investment and improved health care mechanisms. In addition, it is anticipated that increased BRICS interaction with Africa will support and advance South Africa's National Development Plan and the African Union's Agenda 2063 development program.

South-South cooperation

As a key partner within the BRICS framework, China has confirmed its intention to accelerate South-South cooperation and mutual economic development. Increased China-Africa trade will advance the development of the African continent and give substance to BRICS' objectives of strengthening South-South commercial interaction for mutual benefit. Despite the challenges of investing in Africa, good progress is being made in turning the continent into a positive investment destination.

Expanded BRICS-Africa partnership offers significant opportunities for long-term economic growth. The short-term assignment is to develop appropriate business-to-business dialogues and information sharing processes to accelerate intra-BRICS trade and investment. This will help counter the destabilizing trend toward anti-globalization and protectionism.

Accelerating sustainable growth in developing countries should be driven by a moral imperative to address poverty and achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as soon as reasonably possible. BRICS should thus strengthen its philosophy of mutual benefit, cooperative development and its commitment to accomplish the SDGs.

Recent trends confirm that China-Africa relations are moving ahead in a very positive manner, based on a vision of a community with a shared future and mutual support and equality grounded on a common historical struggle for national liberation. Furthermore, China supports Africa in becoming a key player in a multipolar world, while China remains committed to a mutually beneficial relationship with Africa, focused on cooperation for common development.

A closer strategic alignment between BRICS and the other key economic cooperation mechanisms, such as the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Belt and Road Initiative, offers an innovative global network to advance common development and prosperity.

This mutual respect and shared learning through the BRICS process can form the basis for cooperation in a multipolar world. Accelerated BRICS cooperation is intended to benefit BRICS members and the world, while at the same time, promoting peace and global harmony. Africa is expected to increasingly look to BRICS as its key development and geopolitical partner.

BRICS-Africa opportunities

As the BRICS economies grow, increased commercial engagement with Africa will offer the continent new prospects for trade and investment. The challenge is for Africa to seize the opportunities offered by BRICS and take full advantage of trade, investment, cultural exchanges and assistance programs. The key to success for Africa in this context depends on the continent's appropriate response to addressing its own impediments to growth, such as low levels of productivity, high transaction costs, poor market access and an unfavorable investment climate.

Africa's challenge is to create favorable conditions for inward foreign direct investment flows. The framework for the continent's successful development agenda should include pro-growth policies, inclusive systems of government, improved political and corporate governance, strengthened conflict resolution mechanisms and more competitive labor practices. Africa's growing relationship with BRICS investors offers many new possibilities and opportunities.

While BRICS bases its policy on friendship and historical solidarity and seeks a win-win relationship with Africa, the management of relationships to achieve this goal will not be easy. At the worldwide level, a joint effort to reshape globalization and international economic institutions can advance the interests of both Africa and BRICS.

Complementary economies

A comprehensive and positive approach to foreign investment from BRICS, implemented by African governments, would go a long way to ensuring a win-win relationship. The International Monetary Fund's studies confirm China's critical role in generating global economic growth through its increasing prominence as an importer of commodities, goods and services. Developing countries benefit directly from increased exports to China and are able to generate new growth as a result of expanding demand in China.

At their respective stages of development, the Chinese and African economies are highly complementary. Each has a clear comparative advantage which, if managed effectively, can translate into a long-term mutually beneficial economic outcome. China's economic opening up to the world has resulted in the accelerated growth in Sino-African trade and investment.

BRICS, along with FOCAC and the Belt and Road Initiative, can strengthen and accelerate this process. Trade links among BRICS countries suggest that intra-BRICS commercial cooperation is strong, but there is still significant potential for expansion and growth. A specific focus on promoting BRICS-Africa (and especially China-Africa trade through BRICS) would have a major positive impact on economic growth on the continent.

BRICS membership offers South Africa leverage to expand economic and political cooperation globally to the benefit of Africa as a whole. It is hoped that South Africa can take advantage of its unique position at the BRICS Summit in Johannesburg. It should ensure that its BRICS diplomacy is strengthened and supported by other African countries. As a representative, or promoter of the African continent within the BRICS system, South Africa will be far more effective than participating as a single independent state actor. BRICS could be decisive in advancing African infrastructure development and regional integration, which in turn, will open the way for faster economic growth on the continent.

As Africa's voice within the BRICS system, South Africa has a historical responsibility to advance BRICS cooperation, while at the same time, facilitating Africa's inclusion and constructive participation in the BRICS process.

The author is an associate professor of International Relations at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa

Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo

Comments to yulintao@bjreview.com

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