BRICS is inclusive

27 May 2013

In an interview with Foreign Exchange the Diplomatic Society publication, the Deputy Director General for Asia and the Middle East at the Department of International Relations and Cooperation for South Africa, Ambassador Anil Sooklal describes the significance of the BRICS Durban Summit held recently in South Africa.

He said, “It was by far the largest BRICS summit in terms of the number of official delegates, attendance, and participation.  The Department of International Relations and Cooperation puts the number at 5000.
“Media interest was high with half the accreditation of 1200 present arriving from outside the BRICS Countries.
“The various side meetings, academic forums, think tanks and financial institutions from the 5 BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) countries showed a marked increase in interactions and engagements.
“The BRICS leaders’ business breakfast meeting with the captains of industry and the Africa outreach retreat were two events unique to the Durban summit.  For the first time the Captains of Industry from the 5 BRICS countries had an opportunity for direct interaction with the BRICS leadership which led to the launch of the BRICS Business Council.
“The Africa outreach programme was activated during the Africa Retreat which brought together 15 African Heads of State and the BRICS heads of state.
“The AU Chair and the AU Commission Chair also attended the event which specifically highlighted cooperation in infrastructure development.
“An outreach programme was agreed to in the Sanya Declaration of the previous BRICS Summit in China.
“On all of these counts this summit was unique and perhaps the most ambitious we’ve had thus far in the 5 year cycle of summits.
“SA is the current BRICS chair until March 2014, when Brazil takes over when they host the summit in Rio de Janeiro.
“South Africa will oversee the implementation of the eThekwini action plan during its tenure.
“The Friendship Cities Initiative and the Urbanization Forum are structures within the BRICS architecture that ensures the benefits and developments of BRICS finds value at a local level.  The Friendship City initiative brings together cities from all of the BRICS countries, Durban (SA), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Mumbai (India), St Petersburg (Russia), Qingdao (China) cascading BRICS to the level of bringing cities together.  South Africa will host the Friendship City meeting later this year to discuss issues of common challenges and share best practices in terms of the governments of our cities and in terms of service delivery, most importantly.
“South Africa will also host the Urbanisation Forum meeting which will be anchored by the SA Department of Rural Development. The Urbanisation Forum deals with issues of development at local government level.
“The BRICS forum has structures that not only deal with intergovernmental relations but can share information at local and provincial level.  It is percolated to various levels of government.
“BRICS is not exclusive.  It is important that the international community understands the cooperation we have in BRICS because it is about advancing the agenda of the South and the development agenda,” said Sooklal who recently returned from meetings and consultations with senior officials of several countries in the east.
“In Pakistan, upon request, I provided my counterpart with the outcome of the BRICS Summit.
“In Singapore – I was a guest at the Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang University of Technology where I gave a lecture on the BRICS Summit hosted in SA to over 150 masters and PhD students of International Relations.
“In Australia and New Zealand, on their request, I gave them a full briefing on the outcomes of the BRICS Summit.
“So there is global interest. It is not just about these 5 countries.  The issues we are dealing with are global issues and it is in support of the multilateral global agenda.
“My counterparts from these countries were very keen to learn about the intense interaction in the various working groups.  
“We have at least 10 working groups that meet at Ministerial level during the course of the year to take forward the program of action agreed upon at the summit.
“We have 18 meetings that South Africa will host during its one year tenure. There are very tangible working groups on, health, security, tourism, agriculture and for the first time we will have a Youth Forum.
“In conclusion I would like to say that we had an excellent team in the BRICS Directorate and the leadership by our Minister and DG and the inter-ministerial committee chaired by our Minister who met regularly and provided sterling guidance. The success of the Summit pertains to the level of leadership shown by our Minister and the inter-ministerial committee and our DG as Sherpa. And they will continue to oversee the one year program we have.
“This Summit has once and for all removed any doubts about SA being a full and equal member of BRICS. A highly successful summit was delivered with substantive outcomes, most important of which was the announcement of the establishment of a Development Bank.”  
Dr. Anil Sooklal is the Deputy Director General (DDG) for Asia and Middle East Affairs and BRICS Sous Sherpa. This is his second tenure as DDG Asia and the Middle East. Previously he was South African Ambassador to Belgium and the European Union, Chief Director North Africa and attached to the SA Mission in Geneva.