International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane. Picture: TYRONE ARTHUR
International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane. Picture: TYRONE ARTHUR

RUSSIAN Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his trade and defence colleagues will visit South Africa in mid-February to start raising the less than stellar level of bilateral trade and other ties ahead of the March 26-27 Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summit in Durban.

International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane acknowledged the need for an improvement in relations with Russia, particularly given the decades of military and other support the former Soviet Union gave to the ANC in exile.

"We see a lot of potential in working on the historic relations that we have with Russia to improve trade," she told reporters at a briefing on Thursday. Both were mining countries with mutual investment prospects, she said.

South African officials said Mr Lavrov and his colleagues were expected to arrive on February 12 for a short visit a few weeks ahead of the fifth summit of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, the grouping that hopes to rival the Group of Eight (G-8) of traditionally wealthy Western nations in the near future.

South Africa’s trade exchanges with Russia are low compared with its other Brics partners.

Russian President Vladimir Putin would be one of the world leaders in Durban and would tack on at least a day to his Brics sojourn to pay an official visit to South Africa, the official sources said.

According to statistics from South African officials, the five Brics countries already control 25% of the global gross domestic product, 30% of the world’s land and 43% of its population.

China was by far the largest economy in the group and South Africa’s biggest trading partner, as well as a significant investor, Ms Nkoana-Mashabane said.

Bilateral trade in 2012 stood at R201bn, according to South African Revenue Service figures, she said at a function at the Chinese embassy in Pretoria celebrating the 15th anniversary of diplomatic relations between South Africa and the People’s Republic of China.

The trade was skewed in China’s favour. "Both sides have agreed to work towards a more equitable trade balance so that both nations benefit from the trade," she said.

South Africa has more than once made clear it hopes the summit will endorse the creation of a Brics development bank and agree it should be located here because of the country’s sophisticated financial services industry. Agreement on the issue is far from assured, with some members doubting the need for yet another development bank.

Ms Nkoana-Mashabane chose her words carefully when she spoke at the media briefing of possible outcomes from the summit.

"We should be able to receive a very positive update on the launch of a development bank. The baby doesn’t have a name as yet — wait until the baby is born."