Cover Story

South Africa offers gateway to vast continent

By Li Lianxing (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-04-13 07:54
Large Medium Small

 South Africa offers gateway to vast continent

A worker in a vineyard near Cape Town in South Africa. The country will become a gateway to the African continent for other BRICS members.

BEIJING - South Africa will become a gateway to the African continent for other BRICS countries and its membership of the group will enhance south-south cooperation, according to officials and experts.

"BRICS is an important grouping to be part of, given the role of emerging economies in advancing the restructuring of the global political, economic and financial architecture into one that is more equitable, balanced and which rests on the important pillar of multilateralism," South African President Jacob Zuma told the country's parliament on March 17.

BRICS is a bloc of powerful emerging developing economies and it had previously been missing a member from Africa. Having an African representative is geopolitically significant since it can give BRICS a four-continent breadth, influence and trade opportunities.

As the most developed country on the continent, South Africa is expected to fill the gap.

South African Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies said his country's inclusion in BRICS was not "Africa tokenism" as it stood in a unique and advantageous position to influence African economic growth and investment that allowed it to punch above its weight, according to AFP.

"We are a small economy on our own, we have a population that is much smaller than any of the other BRIC countries. Our rates of growth are not yet at their level, but we are recovering," Davies said.

"We are quite small but, when we look at the African continent as a whole, the numbers start to add up," Davies said.

However, how effective its "African leadership" would be within the framework of BRICS remains unclear, according to Nic Cheeseman, a researcher in African politics at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.

South Africa's prominence within the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which affects a large market of over 250 million people, is conspicuous and it is its most influential member.

However, Cheeseman said that other countries in the group "would engage in Africa selectively and through the regional player they think is more relevant".

"South Africa has a major hold over economies in southern Africa, but in West Africa it is Nigeria and in East Africa it is Kenya."

While China has become South Africa's biggest trading partner, South Africa is also a member of the IBSA group (India, Brazil and South Africa), which aims to enhance south-south cooperation in a global forums and promote partnership among its members.

"IBSA and BRICS provide a link with the African continent and strengthen our position as a gateway to Africa," Zuma said.

"The membership of South Africa in BRICS will certainly add value to our trade, and particularly exports to these countries. We already have such relations with individual countries bilaterally and this is going to enhance that relationship."

Yang Lihua, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said South Africa's membership of BRICS would enhance the other members' cooperation with Africa.

BRICS has not formalized its nature as an economic or political institution and the inclusion of South Africa may not guarantee any immediate investments or trade agreements, but it will offer better access to the other BRICS markets and enhance South Africa's role in international forums.

China Daily

(China Daily 04/13/2011 page6)