The Brics summit is the ideal opportunity for South Africa to build ties with the East, but at the same time it must not sour existing relations with the West.
So warns Busisiwe Mavuso, CEO of Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA), who believes that the government must now, more than ever, “put South Africa’s interests first”.
“Although the opportunities in the East are clear, our trade relations with the West are essential to our economic well-being,” she says.
“Unfortunately, this does not seem to be clear to those who represent our (country).”
According to Mavuso, she was “shocked” when she listened to Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, minister in the presidency responsible for women, youth and people with disabilities, speak during the Brics youth summit last week.
“Rather than concentrating on the opportunities offered by South Africa’s relationship with Brics, her speech revolved around Brics being used to accelerate ‘the demise of an unjust imperialist world order’,” she says.
“The speech was heavy on rhetoric that presented Brics as a competitive pole against the West, rather than as a society designed to promote the development and cooperation of its members.”
In the same speech, Dlamini-Zuma complained about those who prefer South Africa to send raw materials into the world rather than manufactured goods.
“She did not take a moment to consider that our relations with India and China are overwhelmingly characterized by South Africa exporting raw materials and importing manufactured goods.
“She also ignored that it is Europe and the United States that import by far the majority of our manufactured goods, including vehicles and machinery manufactured here, the kind of goods that drive industrial activity and add more value to our economy.”
Mavuso says South Africa must use the manufacturing base supported by Western trade to “improve our competitiveness so that we can gain a foothold in Asian markets for our manufactured goods”.
“Immense damage will be done to our industrial market if we collapse the trade relationships that currently sustain it – without any competitive access to new trade markets.
“But we have to be realistic about our approach to those opportunities, especially with China, which clearly has an appetite for mineral resources, but has highly competitive manufacturing capabilities that SA will find it difficult to compete with.
“China is interested in maintaining access to our raw materials, but our focus must be on creating the opportunity for the export of value-added goods and services.”
Mavuso called on the government to represent South Africa’s interests “strategically” at the summit and to approach the summit with “a clear view of what will benefit us”.
“We must present Brics as an opportunity to drive the economic development of its member states, which the West and the rest of South Africa’s partners will experience positively.”