Dancer Thobi Maphanga of The Rickshaw Collective welcomes BRICS delegates to Durban. PICTURE: HARRY LOCK

DURBAN - SOUTH Africa has become China’s largest trading partner in Africa, while China has been the country’s biggest trading partner for nine years, says China’s President Xi Jinping.

“Two-way trade totalled $39.17billion (R525bn) last year - more than 20 times what it was at the start of our diplomatic engagement,” he said.

“Preliminary statistics show that China’s direct investment in South Africa has grown by more than 80 times and exceeded $10.2bn in cumulative terms, creating tens of thousands of jobs for local communities and boosting the South African economy.”

Xi was expected to arrive in Africa yesterday, first making stops in Senegal and Rwanda before jetting in for the 10th BRICS summit in Johannesburg starting on Wednesday.

China is bolstering its diplomatic, trade and investment ties with Africa at a time when the continent does not appear to be part of the US’s agenda.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Khusela Diko, said Xi’s visit was important because of the strong historic and economic ties between the two countries.

“This state visit follows the recent re-election of President Xi and the election of President Ramaphosa. There will be a reciprocal state visit just before Focac (the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation) summit in September,” said Diko.

“There are a lot of Chinese companies in South Africa and a lot of South African companies in China.” Touching on the issue of the illicit trade in wildlife, Xi said Chinese volunteers were working with Chinese companies and communities to partner with wildlife conservation organisations.

He said a decade on, BRICS co-operation had achieved “remarkable development and gained growing influence”.

“This year’s summit will be the first held in the second ‘Golden Decade’ of BRICS co-operation. China will go all out to support South Africa in hosting this event,” said Xi.

Meanwhile, South African Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies said yesterday that this weekend’s business meeting of BRICS states was a crucial element in addressing trade bottlenecks among the five countries and identifying projects for investment.

Davies said the BRICS Business Council’s role in identifying problems and bottlenecks and recommending solutions, as well as identifying intra-BRICS projects for investments and increased exports, could not be overemphasised.

“The council is a crucial element of the bloc because of the role it plays in promoting business, trade and investment among the business communities of the five countries,” said Davies.

“The council is also mandated to ensure there is regular dialogue between the business communities of the member nations and the governments of the countries.”

Today Davies will address the council’s sixth annual meeting in Durban. Business people from the five countries will use the gathering to exchange ideas on a variety of pertinent issues related to trade promotion, investment, trade in services, the development aspects of e-commerce, intellectual property rights, and small and medium enterprises, among others.

The meeting is a build-up to the BRICS summit.

While the delegates were still in Durban, it was important that the city put its best foot forward, said Musa Makhunga, the president of the Durban Chamber of Commerce. “This is an opportunity to showcase what Durban has to offer,” he said.

Over the past week flags representing each BRICS nation flew along the M4 near the new Nelson Mandela and Albertina Sisulu statues, welcoming tourists who had arrived in Durban for the meeting.

Makhunga added: “This can result in long-term exposure especially for hospitality, accommodation, restaurants, catering and retail. Hosting special-interest events during international events like this can create great publicity and be an incredible advertisement for businesses and the city.”

Police spokesperson Brigadier Jay Naicker said all delegates were given “top priority” by the organisers of each event and police planned accordingly, taking into account every eventuality.

Brian Dube of the State Security Agency said security measures for the BRICS summit were co-ordinated nationwide through the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure. - Additional reporting: African News Agency (ANA)

SUNDAY TRIBUNE