Speakers stress the need for action.
Speakers at the Brics business council’s inaugural meeting stressed the need for action rather than discussion, but a collaborative effort by five markedly diverse nations will require a special effort when it comes to lobbying their governments.
The Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) forum was formed in 2011 to encourage commercial, political and cultural cooperation and, at a summit in March this year, it was resolved that a business council be formed to facilitate trade and development.
One point reiterated by speakers and delegates was that the Brics meetings should be more than a talking shop offering only networking opportunities. Instead, practical work and proposals should be produced between meetings.
Trade among the Brics nations in 2012 amounted to 16.8% of global trade, according to President Jacob Zuma, who addressed the council meeting.
South Africa’s trade with Brics nations, he said, grew 11% in the past year reaching R294-billion. Combined, the Brics countries account for 18% of the world’s gross domestic product.
Although the business council can do some things on its own, such as business-to-business deals and developing instruments to make investing in venture capital easier, “other things are beyond our ambit”, said Sandile Zungu, a member of the council and chairperson of the Zico Group, referring to issues such as tariffs and expediting multiple-entry business cards.
Reviewing the outcomes
Zungu said council members would be meeting in the next few days to review the outcomes of the inaugural meeting and will again split responsibilities.
Practical things needed to be done, he said, included bringing on board existing structures such as the Chamber of Mines and the Banking Association of South Africa.
Behind closed doors at the meeting, the council agreed on several business recommendations to get the ball rolling, including urging governments to issue multiple-entry business visas for longer periods and to consider proposals to create a Brics business travel card; to signal the interest of the council in a Brics development bank and appeal to governments to speed up the formation of the bank, and to create an information exchange platform — a Brics business portal.
More generally, the council agreed on matters such as the proposed areas of co-operation, which now include infrastructure and mining, as well as recognising the emergence of new global growth points (including in Africa) and promoting win-win partnerships between Brics and Africa in sectors like agriprocessing.
At the summit held in Durban in March, at which the business council was formed, the Brics leaders resolved to prioritise Africa’s development. And doing business in Africa took centre stage at the business council meeting.
“Business people, I’m not trying to bullshit you. If you want to make money, this is the place to make it … I know that because I made a lot of money here,” said Mo Ibrahim, a mobile communications entrepreneur and billionaire, who addressed the council.
Highest returns on investment
Both Zuma and Ibrahim said Africa offered the highest returns in the world on investment.
Zuma said Africa had great advantages such as its rich mineral resources and agricultural potential. It is said to have 60% of the world’s arable land, but Zuma conceded that an infrastructure backlog, estimated to require about $1-trillion, remained a daunting challenge.
Ibrahim said that two key areas that needed to be developed were good governance and the integration of Africa.
“We are all working hard on good governance in Africa,” he said. “No continent on the world is as self-critical as us … We give our governments a hard time, and make them accountable.”
He suggested that Asia, and specifically China, should do the same.