PRETORIA – South Africa announced on Friday it has been formally invited to join the Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC) group of key emerging nations, bolstering its image as the economic gateway to Africa.
Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said China, which currently chairs BRIC, invited South Africa to join the group, whose current members will account for 61 percent of global growth in 2014, according to the International Monetary Fund.
“China, in its capacity as rotating chairperson of the BRIC formation, based on agreement reached by the BRIC member states, invites South Africa as a full member into what will in future be called BRICS,” she told journalists in Pretoria.
“(Chinese) President Hu Jintao also issued a letter of invitation to (South African) President Jacob Zuma to attend the third BRICS leaders’ summit, to be held in China in the first quarter of 2011,” she added.
China’s state news agency Xinhua confirmed the invitation, saying “BRIC has accepted South Africa as a full member of the group”.
BRIC, a term coined by Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill in 2001 to describe the growing influence of large emerging economies, accounted for about half of global economic growth between 2000 and 2008.
The BRIC countries are not formally linked but have held summits and taken steps to boost financial cooperation and investment opportunities among them.
The group held its first summit in Russia last year.
South Africa’s economy is about one-fourth the size of Russia’s, the smallest BRIC, but the country had been lobbying heavily to be admitted to the club.
Zuma has visited all four member countries this year.
Nkoana-Mashabane called the invitation “the best Christmas present ever” for South Africa and touted the country’s leading role in Africa.
“South Africa will provide a gateway into Africa for BRICS, and everything South Africa does as a member of the forum will be to advance the African agenda,” she said.
South Africa has worked to build its global reputation and its image as an entrypoint to Africa, hosting the continent’s first World Cup this year and winning a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.
But analysts, including the man who coined the term BRIC, said the country does not have the same economic calibre as the group’s other members.
“In terms of my thesis of economics, it doesn’t make a huge amount of sense,” O’Neill told AFP.
“There are lots of other emerging nations that have more people and/or considerably bigger economies than South Africa.
“If I were any one of Korea, Turkey, Indonesia, Mexico, or even Poland or Argentina, I’d be saying today, ‘Why not me?’”
Martyn Davies, CEO of South African consulting firm Frontier Advisory, called the move “a political play rather than a commercial one”.
“The South African government clearly wants to elevate ourselves,” he told AFP.
“We want to be seen as a first-tier emerging market economy, rather than as a second-tier emerging market economy as we currently are.”