Speaking at the 2nd Southern African Metals and Engineering Indaba taking place at the IDC Conference Centre in Sandton, Mr Dlamini – who was the main speaker in a plenary session that assessed South Africa’s economic relationship with the West and the extent to which BRICS may have affected it said everything must be done to further enhance South Africa’s relationship with BRICS.

“BRICS has not only offered South Africa an alternative trading partner, but it also represents an opportunity for all its member states to mobilise themselves and be in a better bargaining position when negotiating with the Western nations,” Mr Dlamini said.

He added that strengthened BRICS can be a powerful and positive force for good.

According to the Department of Trade and Industry, trade among Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) nations has increased by 70% since the group was established in 2009. In the same year China, which boasts the world’s second largest economy, became South Africa’s single-biggest trading partner. Bilateral trade between the two countries has grown in subsequent years, reaching its highest level of R270 billion in 2013.

South Africa’s trade with other BRICS nations has also been on an upward trajectory, with Pretoria cementing its position as Russia’s leading trade partner in Africa while Brazil now tops the list as the forerunner among South Africa’s trade partners in Latin America. India’s imports of gold and coal, meanwhile, have contributed significantly to South Africa’s balance sheet.

The accolades, however, have not come without criticism. Some in the audience argued that South Africa’s trade with BRICS nations has for the most part favoured Brazil, Russia, India and particularly China.

However, US Embassy Economics Minister Mr Laird Trieber, who spoke at the same plenary session, echoed Mr Dlamini’s comments that South Africa’s relationship with
the BRICS nations has not necessarily had a negative impact on South Africa’s economic relationship with the West.

“South Africa needs as many trade partners as possible. While its relationship with BRICS has grown over the years, the US still remains one of South Africa’s most strategic partners,” Mr Trieber said.

In conclusion, Mr Trieber said South Africa remained a very important trading partner of the US and that trade between the two nations will continue into the future as South Africa continues to diversify its economy.

Delivering the Closing Address on behalf of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, National Treasury Director-General Lungisa Fuzile said the Government was not oblivious to the challenges currently facing the manufacturing sector in general and the steel sector in particular.

He said that while most of the challenges currently facing the South African economy were influenced by factors taking place in the international environment, some of the challenges were also self-inflicted.

“It is, therefore, of paramount importance that we do everything in our power to find solutions that would boast investor confidence, grow the economy and improve our country’s credit ratings,” Mr Fuzile said.

He also commended the role that the business community played in collaboration with the Government to convince the international financial community not to downgrade South Africa’s credit rating.