The Presidents of China and South Africa, Xi Jinping and Cyril Ramaphosa, offered an unequivocal rebuke of US President Donald Trump’s trade war on Wednesday and called on the Brics countries of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa to act to uphold multilateralism and defend the rules-based trading system.
Addressing over 1 000 business leaders during the Brics Business Forum, in Johannesburg, Xi said the international community had reached a “new crossroads”, whereby unilateralism and protectionism was threatening multilateralism and the multilateral trading system.
“We are facing a choice between cooperation and confrontation, between opening up and a closed-door policy, and between mutual benefit and a beggar-thy-neighbour approach,” the Chinese premier said through a translator.
He urged Brics countries to defend rules-based systems, which he described as critical to the success of emerging market and developing countries. “The current international order is not a perfect one. But as long as it’s rules-based, aims to be equitable and pursues win-win outcomes, such an international order should not be discarded as one pleases.”
Likewise, Ramaphosa argued that the multilateral trading system was facing “unprecedented challenges”.
“We are concerned by the rise in unilateral measures that are incompatible with World Trade Organisation rules and are worried about the impact of these measures, especially on developing countries,” the South African president said.
Xi outlined a vision for a new global governance system that was more supportive of the growth and development of emerging economies and developing countries.
He argued that the Brics countries, which currently represent 40% of global gross domestic product, should help shape a system based on cooperation and open economies, which provided a “sure way” for making progress in science and technology and productivity.
“A trade war should be rejected, because there will be no winners . . . those that pursue this course will only end up hurting themselves.”
Xi reiterated China’s commitment to protecting the intellectual property of foreign firms and said that it would also be actively moving to promote imports. The giant Asian country will host an international import expo in Shanghai from November 5 to 10.
Meanwhile, Ramaphosa sought to make a direct link between the trade agenda and his objective of dramatically raising investment levels in South Africa and the rest of Africa. He has set a goal of securing $100-billion-worth of investment in South Africa over the coming five years.
“We need to increase investment between Brics countries, particularly in the productive sectors of our economy,” the South African president asserted.
Ramaphosa said the opportunities for intra-Brics investment and trade would be enhanced by the proposed African Continental Free Trade Area, which would provide access to a market of over 1-billion people and a combined GDP of over $3-trillion.
“The value of this free trade area will only be fully realised through massive investment in infrastructure and skills development. This presents opportunities for Brics countries, some of whom have extensive experience in infrastructure development and are world leaders in education and skills development.”
Also emphasised was the role of the New Development Bank, which could fill a critical gap in project funding. “As we enter the second decade of Brics cooperation, we are determined to expand the bank’s role in economic and social development.”
Xi argued that the second decade of Brics would represent a “golden age” and quipped that it was, thus appropriate that the new decade was being launched in Johannesburg, the “city of gold”.