Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a speech titled "Keeping Abreast of the Trend of the Times to Achieve Common Development" at the BRICS Business Forum in Johannesburg. Picture: Wang Ye/Xinhua
The world is faced with “a choice between confrontation and co-operation we are at a crossroad,” warned People’s Republic of China President Xi Jinping at the opening of the BRICS summit in Joburg on Wednesday.

“We need to build a shared future for humankind,” Xi said.

“Trade wars should be rejected. Economy hegemony should be rejected. Those who pursue that will only hurt themselves. As BRICS, we should be resolute in rejecting unilateralism and protectionism.”

Xi called on the developing world to rise against US protectionism, warning that the tariffs that the world’s biggest economy had imposed on imports would have far-reaching implications for emerging nations and markets.

The leitmotif of this BRICS Summit as articulated by its leaders is to embrace openness and inclusivity, and ensure people-centred growth.

The elephant in the room was the US, which has initiated trade wars with many of its traditional trading partners, causing consternation among the world’s emerging economies.

President Cyril Ramaphosa warned the BRICS countries about the challenges for developing countries emanating from the “rise in unilateral measures which are incompatible with World Trade Organisation rules”.

He told a packed audience with delegates from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa: “We need to discuss the role of trade and inclusive growth.”

In light of the current volatile global environment, Ramaphosa hailed BRICS as an important and vital forum for co-operation after a successful decade of collaboration.

“We have successfully shaped an ambitious agenda, and our intra-BRICS co-operation is gaining momentum in the fields of finance, agriculture, trade, science and technology, health, education and security,” Ramaphosa told delegates.

“The New Development Bank (NDB) is one of BRICS’s most important achievements, which serves to fill a critical gap in development financing,” Ramaphosa said.

In just three years, the bank has issued $5.7 billion (R74.98bn) in loans to BRICS member countries, and intends on increasing that amount to $15bn in the next three years.

According to NDB vice-president Leslie Maasdorp, the bank plans to expand its mandate to lend to the private sector which is willing to take on long-term risk, in a move beyond the financing of state-owned enterprises with sovereign guarantees.

Ramaphosa also lauded the creation of the BRICS Business Council as an outstanding achievement.

Addressing the Business Forum, chairman of the BRICS Business Council Dr Iqbal Survé noted that the NDB is projected to give more loans to the BRICS countries over the next few years than the World Bank gave to them in 75 years.

Survé said the three achievements he hoped could be accomplished by the end of this week’s summit include a visa-free regime for bona fide business travellers, technology transfer between the BRICS countries for business and the creation of a BRICS rating agency.

According to Minister for Trade and Industry Rob Davies, who addressed the BRICS Business Forum: “South Africa is collateral damage in the current trade wars, as the international trading system is being rebalanced not in the interests of the majority, but in the interests of one party.”

Davies criticised the fact that the US is raising tariffs on steel and aluminium and that some countries are exempt while others are not.

“South Africa represents only 1% of US steel imports, but our representations to the Americans to exempt us from the tariffs were unsuccessful.”

In what could be interpreted as a veiled threat, Davies highlighted the fact that interest groups in the South African poultry industry plan to launch a court challenge against the US poultry import concession, given the fact that South Africa’s benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act have been breached.

Davies summed up the general sentiment of delegates when he said: “This BRICS Summit will be a signal to the world that there is another part of the world that makes up 42% of the world’s population, and that it is significant.”