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The Latest Headlines


BRICS Means Business

Agreement reached on new development bank, despite disputed details

Francisco Little

     The Fifth BRICS Summit

In Africa they say it is a positive sign if it rains at the start of an important event. That certainly seemed to hold true in South Africa's premier eastern port city, where the Fifth BRICS Summit began with thunderous skies and unrelenting showers. As the flags of the five member countries - Brazil, Russia, India, China and host South Africa - hung limply in the humid coastal air, beachfront street vendors, industrious taxi operators and local retailers spruced up to welcome the influx of 5,500 delegates and media professionals to Durban.

This year's theme, BRICS and Africa: Partnership for Development, Integration and Industrialization, was highlighted by South Africa taking over the group chair for the next year and using the opportunity to link Africa much closer to the potential of the BRICS collective and cement its place as the gateway to the continent.

BRICS' potential is vast, not only in Africa, but across all member states where the five muscular emerging nations now fuel a combined engine propelling 50 percent of the world's economic growth. The BRICS 2013 annual report seen at the summit shows BRICS making up 17 percent of world trade - and predictably trade between China and other members topped $300 billion last year.

This figure will eclipse $500 billion by 2015, of which about 60 percent will consist of China-Africa trade, said Simon Freemantle and Jeremy Stevens, analysts with the South Africa-based Standard Bank. Clearly, from where Africa is sitting, China is the BRICS powerhouse, and subsequently comes in for much criticism from the traditional world order dominance of Europe and the United States.

Don't break the bank

Much of this criticism has been leveled at the proposed BRICS Development Bank, which was undoubtedly the star item on the summit's agenda. Speaking at the BRICS Business Forum, Business Unity South Africa President Jabu Mabuza said the major hurdle to development was access to funding, a theme echoed throughout the two-day event. Adding to the pressing need for a group bank is the ongoing concern with the pedestrian pace of reform at the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

It was therefore welcome news that a formal agreement had been reached on establishing a BRICS Development Bank.

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff said BRICS' success has confounded its critics, who now recognize its contribution to the global economy and emphasized the need for an alternative to the World Bank and the IMF.

The BRICS bank has been under discussion for over a year, with much speculation as to its specifics and implementation. However, the bank's doors won't be opening any time soon, despite the ideological urging of politicians and business leaders.

South African President Jacob Zuma told media that the bank, the first formal institution in the informal BRICS group, would make the group more autonomous and less reliant on traditional lenders.

"In terms of our earlier deliberations, we have decided to enter formal negotiations to establish a BRICS-led new development bank based on our own considerable infrastructure needs, which amounts to around $4.5 trillion over the next five years, but also to cooperate with other emerging markets and developing countries in future," said Zuma, adding that in addition a BRICS Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA) "safety net" would be set up to provide emergency financial crisis funding for member states.

However, specific contributions and the bank's location remain points of contention. A figure of $10 billion each had been mooted, but South African Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said although a global amount of $100 billion had been agreed for the CRA, details for bank seeding "still had to be worked out." Analysts say resolving these details could take years, especially if contributions are based on a country's wealth and China is seen to dominate the bank.

Chinese Finance Minister Lou Jiwei Lou told Xinhua News Agency the great demand for funds to expand infrastructure development had made the establishment of the bank "necessary." Lou said the finance ministers had not discussed initial investment in Durban.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country supported the creation of the bank, but it must work on market principles only and support the businesses of "all our countries."

A review of the progress made with both the bank and the CRA would be made by BRICS members on the sidelines of the Group of 20 Summit in September.

Along with the bank agreement, China and Brazil signed a three-year currency exchange agreement of up to $30 billion in bilateral trade, ostensibly to prevent collateral damage of commercial ties from any future banking crisis.

Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the BRICS Summit

A positive outlook

Aside from the BRICS Development Bank, and the Consortium of Think Tanks, to assist members with innovation, another notable launch at the summit was the BRICS Business Council. South African Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies said the council would be a permanent structure of business leaders from the five countries, with South Africa as host for the first year, promoting intra-BRICS cooperation. Speaking at the breakfast launch, business leaders stressed that the Business Council serves to support BRICS small and medium-sized enterprises.

It would also assist in up-skilling - South Africa has 3.2 million youth in need of skills improvement, according to President Zuma, who is keen to learn how other BRICS members are tackling this problem.

In tune with the summit's theme, Brazil's Minister of Development, Industry and Foreign Trade, Fernando Pimentel, emphasized the importance of scaling up trade with Africa, while Anand Sharma, India's Minister of Commerce, Industry and Textiles, confirmed India's decision to share IT facilities with Africa.

Widely respected South African business tycoon Patrice Motsepe will chair the council.

The energy at the summit clearly indicates that there is a positive outlook for BRICS moving forward. Members want to make things happen at their own pace of development, in spirit at least, and are committed to recognizing the importance of BRICS and shed the summits "talk shop" image.

China's President Xi Jinping emphasized this by including the summit in his first visit abroad. He said the potential of BRICS is infinite, and that the "real potential of BRICS cooperation is yet to be realized," adding that cooperation can improve global economic development.

The summit proceedings concluded with BRICS leaders meeting African heads of state in an African Dialogue Forum to discuss cooperation in infrastructure development and alternative trade opportunities for the continent, especially with China.

South Africa has an emotional history with each of the other BRICS countries. Davies said that the summit's success would not be measured just on the quantity of increased BRICS trade, but also in the number of partnerships that BRICS members will develop in supporting productive capacity. After the doors of the Durban International Convention Center have closed and members departed to prepare for next year's gathering in Brazil, it is people-to-people connections, more than economic benefits, that will take BRICS to the next cooperative level.

 (Reporting from Durban, South Africa)


Language Swap

While the BRICS Summit prepared to get down to business in downtown Durban, a practical example of China-Africa cooperation was taking place close by at the Durban University of Technology (DUT). In tandem with the Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University, a new program with DUT designed to share languages and agricultural skills was launched.

At the launch, attended by King Goodwill Zwelithini, reigning monarch of South Africa's Zulu ethnic group, it emerged that the program will teach the Zulu ethnic language in China and Chinese language, culture and farming skills to rural communities in the Durban area. King Goodwill said that this program was a good example of how an alliance like BRICS can benefit people on the ground.






Cover Story
-Africa on China's Dream
-A Path to Health
-Making Their Mark
-Strengthening China-Africa Health Collaboration inThis New Era
The Latest Headlines
-South Africa Showcases Top Products in China
-UNDP: China and other developing countries should be given a bigger say in the global decision-making process
-Investing in Youth
-A Healthy Partnership



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