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Where Does South Africa Want to Go – BRICS or the AfCFTA?

In its policy meetings in early January, the ANC has demanded that SA use its 2023 chairmanship of the BRICS group of nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China and SA) to push for the admission of new members to the political and economic grouping of major emerging markets. Already there are a number of other countries affiliated, including Mexico and Vietnam. Expanding BRICS, which accounts for a third of the world’s gross domestic product, fits in with the ANC’s emphasis on strengthening alliances to counter the global dominance of developed nation economies such as the US. China’s economy is more than double the size of the rest of the BRICS group combined. Saudi Arabia has received Russia’s backing to join. However, the inevitable question must be – if offered a choice which economic bloc will SA support – BRICS or the AfCFTA?

EFA has heard rumours that SA negotiators at the AfCFTA are taking a retrogressive approach, treating their colleagues from Africa to ideological slogans which SA used against the developing countries in the WTO debates over the years. This has suggested to some African countries that SA is no longer interested in the success of the AfCFTA, and may in fact take its instructions from China and Russia to slow down or otherwise derail the AfCFTA. If this is the case it will damage SA business that has started to show much greater interest in the internal AfCFTA market. There are, of course, a great number of levels within this discussion – much will depend on the politicians that call the shots, and on how business responds. Perhaps one point to ponder is whether trade negotiations should be opaque (held behind closed doors and in secret) or whether the stakeholders cooperate to ensure that the best economic and social solutions are found to guarantee employment and a healthy market. The more opaque the conditions for negotiations, the more rumours will breed.

Alastair Tempest

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