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Experts have shown little enthusiasm on BRICS Summit trade agreements

President Cyril Ramaphosa at the 15th BRICS Summit. Picture: Elmond Jiyane/GCIS

President Cyril Ramaphosa at the 15th BRICS Summit. Picture: Elmond Jiyane/GCIS

Published Aug 26, 2023


Experts have shown mixed reactions as to whether the BRICS Summit held this week in Johannesburg will improve trade relations between the member states, particularly in sectors such as agriculture.

Agri economist Thabile Nkunjana from the National Agricultural Marketing Council said BRICS countries, excluding South Africa, imported agricultural products totalling $290 billion (about R5.4 trillion) in 2022, but South Africa’s agricultural exports to BRICS countries totalled only US$1.1bn.

He said this indicates how much opportunity there is for South African agricultural products to be exported within this group, which is something he would like to see after the 2023 BRICS summit.

“Apart from wool, citrus, almonds, pears, apples and grapes, which are among South Africa’s top agricultural exportable items, there are other products that the country would want to see exported to BRICS nations, particularly India and China,” said Nkunjana.

He said wine, avocados, citrus and other fruits are significant exportable products from South Africa, and among the products still subject to hefty import tariffs.

“South Africa currently does not have agricultural trade agreements with Asian markets such as India and China. Trade agreements or lowered tariffs would increase South Africa’s exports to these nations based on their market size due to their population numbers,” he said.

David Ansara, CEO of the Free Market Foundation, said BRICS is essentially a geo-political construct, and at the moment the participating countries are united more by what they stand against than what they stand for.

“The Sandton meeting was characterised by high levels of anti-Western, ‘anti-Imperialist’ rhetoric but fewer commitments to open markets and free trade, which are the real drivers of economic prosperity,” said Ansara.

He said this bloc is still dominated by political interests at the state level, and if BRICS is to succeed, it should focus on increased trade and co-operation between ordinary people and businesses in the participating countries.

“BRICS’ developmental institutions should not simply become a means by which governments accustomed to fiscal irresponsibility get to spend recklessly and borrow money without any real strings attached. Even if the models of the IMF and World Bank are challenged, BRICS countries should still adhere to fiscal prudence and responsible spending. Membership in the BRICS should not be an excuse to attempt to defy economic reality,” said Ansara.

He said if BRICS countries want to increase their global power, they need to get rich, and the only way to get rich is to uphold private property rights, liberalise, and embrace an open trade environment.

It remains to be seen if the positiveness of the BRICS summit translates into positive action, according to Christo van der Rheede, Agri SA CEO.

He said he welcomed the bilateral trade agreement deal for the export of avocados to China with Wang Yi, the Chinese minister of international affairs, during the summit. However, more needs to be done to open markets for South African products to the BRICS member states.

“We should never sacrifice our trade agreements, such as the African Growth and Opportunity Act; we should have them balanced with BRICS because both West and East are very important for our exports,” said Van der Rheede.