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When we cracked the nod to add the “s” to Bric in 2010, only SA’s politicians cared, and this remained the case until Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

Despite all the rhetoric about the economic miracles about to hatch from the Brics egg, nothing has happened. Our trade with China is significant and important to us, but this has nothing to do with Brics.

For as long as politicians were only meeting, hugging and smiling for the cameras, no-one cared. Then Russia invaded Ukraine and Iran was invited to join Brics, and suddenly Brics is no longer the harmless talkshop it was for years.

In all matters of foreign policy you have to be aware of both the long and short game. You need to know who the players are and who is being played. I fear SA sees only the short game and suspect we are being played by China, just like all the other members of Brics, India being a possible exception.

The Brics bloc is unusual. There is no agreement underpinning it, so when countries talk about being invited to join, it is not at all clear what this means. The only Brics agreement in existence underpins the New Development Bank, but beyond that there is a vacuum.

There was no obvious economic reason for the existence of Brics when it was formed, but that is changing as the extended grouping increasingly becomes an extension of China’s foreign policy, dressed up as the “Global South”. This has implications as the world begins to polarise around the mostly democratic West on the one side and an increasingly autocratic China on the other.

Argentina was invited to join the club by Chinese President Xi Jinping, but President Javier Milei declined the invitation on November 30, just a day after he had won the Argentine election. Saudi Arabia has said it needs time to consider its invitation to join.

It was never going to be easy to have Iran and the Saudis working together in a formation like Brics. After all, Saudi Arabia has an important relationship with the US and would find it convenient to have a close technological relationship with Israel. Iran is understandably worried about the implications of combining Israeli technology with Saudi money, which would give it a dangerous neighbour.

On its part, Saudi Arabia has no time for the Iranian sponsored Houthis in Yemen, who by firing missiles at passing “Western” ships, ostensibly motivated by Israel's war in Gaza, are directly impeding its ability to ship oil through both the Suez Canal and the Gulf of Aden.

Given that SA’s membership of Brics has yielded no economic or other benefit, when faced with the ever increasing cost of remaining in Brics we need to think carefully about how we move forward. To many, SA taking Israel to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague signals an ever stronger move towards authoritarian and terrorist groups.

This view could be softened if SA took an openly critical stance towards Hamas’ attacks on Israeli civilians on October 7, but this seems unlikely. Yet investment into SA flows from the West. Our trade is with the West, other than the rocks we export to China and the cheap manufactured goods we bring back. The donor funding we receive is from the US and Europe. Every trade agreement we have is either with Africa or the West.

We have a trade agreement with Mercosur, which includes Brazil, but that agreement is limited only to goods neither region trades in volume. We began talks with India about a preferential trade agreement over a decade ago, but that has gone nowhere. We even looked at a trade agreement with China in 2004, but wisely took that no further.

We need to think carefully about how much Western investment and support will be at future risk through our ongoing and full-throated association with some of the most repressive regimes in the world. SA wants the money, both foreign direct investment and donor funds, to keep flowing from the West, but seemingly gives no strategic consideration to those relationships.

Much of this arises from a feeling of entitlement for both the real and imagined ills of the past. But we are where we are now. No matter what happened in the past, SA’s future will be determined by the decisions we take now. The company we keep does not go unnoticed. Meeting Hamas while refusing to meet Israel is not a good look.

People notice that we took Israel to the ICJ but have still not condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and that our silence on the horrors unfolding in Sudan is deafening. Despite the media announcement that the US African Growth and Opportunity Act will be renewed early and for 10 years, this has not happened and there is a real chance that it will not, at least as far as it concerns SA.

Our growth in trade with Brics countries has been driven almost exclusively by the value of our trade with China, and to a lesser extent India. If we remove China and India, our exports to Brazil, Russia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran and the UAE totalled just R48bn in 2022, comparable to our exports to the economically crippled Zimbabwe in the same year.

If SA is to remain in Brics, the strategy needs to be more clearly articulated. The mumbo jumbo about a multipolar world is just that — waffle, with a large side order of disappointment. If the Brics bloc is expected to deliver measurable economic benefits let’s understand what those are, because I am struggling to see them now.

• MacKay is CEO of XA Global Trade Advisors.

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