As the current years draws to a close, one of its key results may be the greater initiative that is taken by the developing world in driving economic integration in the global economy. China has firmly occupied the leading role in the sphere of opening markets and advancing new formats and models of economic integration, one of its key initiatives this year being the so-called “BRICS+” format introduced at the BRICS summit in Xiamen. The BRICS+ initiative is meant to expand the array of partnerships forged by BRICS economies across the developing world, though the initiative is still largely a “work in progress” as its format is yet to be further refined and developed.
Next year the chairmanship in BRICS will be passed on to South Africa, which may well use the BRICS+ initiative as an opportunity to strengthen its regional role in Africa while at the same time expanding the possibility set for African countries’ integration into the world economy via closer engagement with BRICS members. Some of the recent trends appear to point precisely in this direction as the New Development Bank opened its first regional office in South Africa earlier this year. In 2016 a preferential trade agreement was concluded between the South African Customs Union (SACU) headed by South Africa and MERCOSUR, where Brazil is the largest member.
In this respect a “BRICS+Africa” framework of cooperation could be developed by BRICS economies for 2018 with the view to further strengthening the BRICS+ mechanism, while at the same time advancing further regional integration and economic cooperation between the BRICS economies and African nations. In line with some of the proposals for BRICS+ advanced earlier (see Valdai paper on BRICS+, July 2017) such a framework could be based on the cooperation of regional integration arrangements in Africa (WAEMU, COMESA, etc) with the respective regional integration arrangements formed by BRICS countries (Eurasian Economic Union, SACU, MERCOSUR, etc). A country-by-country approach would likely entail coordination difficulties, while a sub-regional framework would likely still offer a comprehensive framework for engaging the majority of African economies in development efforts.
One of the more promising venues for such a framework for BRICS+ in Africa may be directed at replicating China’s Belt and Road project in Eurasia in the African continent. Indeed a key barrier to economic development is the fragmentation of economic space and the lack of regional economic integration impulses. A grand connectivity project in Africa could become a more promising alternative to integration based exclusively on free trade areas (FTAs).
Connectivity integration lays a firmer foundation for African economies to pursue development via building regional cooperation rather than relying mostly on external assistance. A regional approach to building BRICS cooperation with African countries could also rely on the cooperation between the respective regional development banks, such as the Development Bank of South Africa as well as the African Development Bank – in both cases South Africa is a member. The BRICS New Development Bank and its regional center in Africa could play a coordinating role in the efforts of regional and national development institutions in advancing greater regional connectivity.
Within such a framework of cooperation amongst regional development institutions of Africa and the BRICS economies the development of infrastructure connecting various sub-regions of the African continent could become a key development goal for Africa in the 21st century.