Brics leaders look to reduce trade barriers in Africa

Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa examine path to enhanced co-operation between their states

Expanding areas of co-operation and further strengthening its status as a global force for trade and development were the focus of discussions on the second day of the 15th Brics summit in Johannesburg.

The group that involves Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, and accounts for a quarter of global GDP held a closed session for delegates to discuss the bloc’s common interests, including efforts to include the rest of the African continent into fair trade deals.

Afterwards, all five leaders gave their views on how best their country could enhance co-operation within the group and help to develop the African continent to compete with major economies in the global arena.

South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa said that although the African Continental Free-Trade Agreement (AfCTFA) is expected to unlock economic opportunities for African nations, the agreement had not yet reached its full potential. “We want the goods, products and services from Africa to compete on an equal footing on the global economy,” he said.


On Tuesday, the summit heard that 54 of Africa’s 55 countries had signed up to AfCTFA as of January, the exception being Eritrea. Of these, 47 had ratified it, accepting its legal obligations to significantly reduce barriers to intra-African trade, which currently accounts for just 18 per cent of the continent’s overall trade.

However, the agreement is seen as just a starting point that will facilitate the introduction of laws and regulations to remove trade barriers across Africa.

The AfCTFA creates a single market for goods and services among its member states, and economists believe it could have a combined gross domestic product of approximately $3.4 trillion (€3.13 trillion) when it reaches fruition.

Mr Ramaphosa said this year’s Brics summit, which is taking place in Johannesburg, is expected to be the most significant in the group’s history and it should impact Africa’s relationship with other countries and its position globally.

“The Brics countries have an opportunity to contribute and participate in Africa’s growth story. That can be achieved through greater co-operation in areas such as infrastructure, agriculture, manufacturing, new energy and the digital economy,” he said.

India’s prime minister Narendra Modi outlined a number of potential areas Brics nations could co-operate on, including establishing a space exploration consortium, deepening education and skills transfer using digital infrastructure, making joint efforts to protect big cats, which are present in all five nations, and the creation of a repository of traditional medicine.

Mr Modi’s suggestion for a space exploration consortium comes as India successfully landed a spacecraft and lunar rover on the moon for the first time.

Chinese president Xi Jinping spoke of the need to regulate artificial intelligence (AI), saying there should be a Brics working group on the matter. He went on to say that the disruption of AI on emerging economies was a significant issue, but he warned against groups of countries trying to establish international laws for areas of global concern.

“Ganging-up to form exclusive groups to create laws, and then packaging them as international laws, is unacceptable,” he concluded.

The Brics Summit, which is a trade, development and finance conference for emerging market economies, continues on Thursday.

Bill Corcoran

Bill Corcoran

Bill Corcoran is a contributor to The Irish Times based in South Africa