“Over time the BRICS has expanded its remit to include global and regional challenges from counter terrorism to climate change to sustainable trade, energy security, investment and green development within an equitable matrix.”
Amidst the feverish G20 Summit preparations in India and India’s exceptional space and lunar success, Prime Minister Narendra Modi embarked for the in person BRICS Summit in South Africa after three years (August 22-24). During the very first interaction in Johannesburg, he spoke of India as the engine for global economic growth and the need for resilient and inclusive supply chains post Covid for the Global welfare of the Global south at the BRICS Leaders Dialogue Forum.
Post the successful landing of the’ Vikram’ PM also called Indian space success an achievement for the world and he advocated space cooperation through BRICS Space Exploration Consortium for BRICS countries and the global south among various other proposals including skill mapping, education and traditional medicine and conservation.
He vehemently supported expansion of the BRICS family and India helped in forging a consensus on the criteria for inclusion. He also sought the support of other BRICS members for the inclusion of African union (AU) as a full member at the Delhi G20 Summit. PM Modi welcomed new members which include Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, UAE, Ethiopia and Argentina — most of whom are India’s strategic partners and have tremendous heft in the regional landscape.
BRICS is also emerging as a forum of major energy producers and consumers accounting for over 38 percent of natural gas and 42 percent oil and 67 percent coal. As per another estimate they account for nearly 90 percent of global solar panel supplies and EV batteries. Hence the role going forward will have significant calculus in the energy and security policies.
15th BRICS Summit in Johannesburg was a landmark for this ‘Global South‘ comprised and oriented organization even as the founder of the acronym Jim O’Neil recently expressed his dismay over the flagging of a potential BRICS currency at the expense of US dollar. Perhaps he is beginning to erroneously underestimate the potential and resolve of the Grouping, forgetting that ‘Jinnie is out of the bottle’.
No wonder South Africa themed the Summit as “BRICS and Africa: For Mutually accelerated Growth; Sustainable Development and Inclusive Multilateralism’ which inter alia encapsulates the priorities. They invited 69 leaders from nearly all of Africa and from Asia and Latin America including those showing interest in joining the expanded BRICS. They are part of the BRICS Plus Dialogue and BRICS Africa outreach.
Expansion itself is somewhat complicated since the objective criteria and guidelines have been just formulated and consensus achieved. The Indian PM also supported expansion along with others. It is a given that expansion is a natural progression given the attractiveness of the BRICS. There might be phased additions with shortlists ready at hand. But expansion must not undermine the collaborative spirit of the Organization due to geopolitical aspirations of some countries who would wish to only use it to counter the western hegemony.
In fact its non-western approaches especially sensitivity, equality and respect towards the developing countries of the Global South are generally held in high esteem. Moreover, the Global Churn and crisis of confidence in the bipolar and unipolar power projections and quest for genuine multilateralism, multi alignments and multiple choices to exercise their foreign policy objectives add to its heft.
Strategic autonomy is the core and underlying driver for many aspirants. Hence one is witnessing an exceptional interest of Middle Powers across continents in BRICS, which accounts for 42 percent of the global population and more than a quarter of global GDP. However, for the oil rich countries India and China are also their major markets let alone tremendous human resource and youth dividend. One of the downsides is of course the low intra-BRICS trade of just about 6 percent of their total which could also be addressed over time.
Chinese proposal to have a BRICS-FTA is couched in its BRI (Belt and Road) labyrinthine hence progress is stunted. However, BRICS and AfCFTA (African Continental Free Trade agreement) might take off faster. Several other initiatives were launched i.e. AI driven industrialization and for security of health including nuclear medicine.
There have been talks of a BRICS currency since the weaponization of the liberal financial instruments controlled by the US in the wake of unilateral sanctions and Russia-Ukraine war. But it’s premature and was not on the agenda. Incidentally the currencies of all BRICS countries start with ‘R’. However the renewed emphasis is on usage of national currencies and payment mechanisms for the trade and other transactions within BRICS and outside. Moreover, the New Development Bank (NDB) is also looking for recapitalization which could be done by the new rich members from the Gulf.
They could even join the Bank without being a part of the BRICS like UAE and Mexico and be a part of an alternate financial institution geared to funding projects in developing countries. It has already extended $33 billion in loans and project assistance. BRICS has weathered many a crisis and is catching up fast with G7’s combined economic heft and surpasses in market size and youth dividend as the economic pivot sharply veers towards the South. The Summit agreed to task the BRICS finance ministers and Central Bank governors to consider the issue of local currencies, payment instruments and platforms and report back to the leaders by the next summit.
Over time the BRICS has expanded its remit to include global and regional challenges from counter terrorism to climate change to sustainable trade, energy security, investment and green development within an equitable matrix. Africa is an important partner for India and others. At the same time BRICS faces its own contradictions let alone external challenges. China’s hegemonistic approaches and lack of sensitivity to India’s concerns have created mistrust and can be inimical to various important organizations like BRICS, SCO and even G20 which India is chairing. Could the bilateral context give way to multilateral efforts. Hopefully the recent meeting of PM Modi and President Xi Jinping in Johannesburg will ease the tensions and ‘competition with cooperation‘ paradigm will take recourse.
India has also developed BRICS counter terrorism strategy even as occasional Chinese protection of dreaded Pakistan based terrorists undermines the very basis for evolving a comprehensive BRICS strategy in this regard. Moreover, Russia-Ukraine war has also impacted the Global South most as far as food, fuel and fertilizers are concerned even as president Putin claimed that he wants war to end while asserting that ‘ The irreversible objective process of de-dollarization has begun’.
South Africa and China both separately tried to bring the warring sides together but to no avail as of now. PM Modi has also spoken to both President Putin and Zelensky many times to return to dialogue and diplomacy. Ensuring uninterrupted depoliticized global and value supply chains remain an Indian priority be it at the BRICS or at the G20. President Putin, an initiator of the BRICS and several of its initiatives could not even attend personally due to an ICC warrant against him and his preoccupation with the ongoing conflict. He, however, assured Africa of a reliable supply of food to the continent.
President Xi Jinping also urged that BRICS nations should expand political and security cooperation to uphold peace and tranquillity throughout the world as the geopolitical situation was getting “intense”. While expressing concerns over the conflict and appreciating the efforts to ease the crisis the leaders reiterated in the Declaration that “We recall our national positions concerning the conflict in and around Ukraine as expressed at the appropriate fora, including the UN Security Council and UN General Assembly.” As Russia took the baton for the next presidency.
Again the Democratization and reforms of multilateral organizations like UNSC, WTO, WHO and Bretton Woods institutions remain on the priority agenda of the BRICS. Even there, especially for the UNSC expansion China is against Indian claims and merely acknowledges Indian aspirations defying the losing relevance of the UN Organization itself due to the prevailing myopic geo-political considerations. The Johannesburg declaration did commit all members to support reforms of multilateral institutions which is a step forward. But, whatever the statements or overt intent might indicate the taste of the pudding is in eating. Unfortunately, so far that remains sour.
The Johannesburg Declaration and discussions have incorporated many ponderable and actionable sectors and areas which will have to be rigorously pursued for the welfare of the Global south and for the sustenance of the BRICS itself.
BRICS has to break many barriers through a consensus driven approach by all members with mutual respect and regard for the sensitivities of each one. This could even transform it into a Global South driven new G20. PM Modi expressed hope that “BRICS will be Breaking Barriers, Revitalizing Economies, Inspiring Innovations, Creating Opportunities and Shaping Futures.” To carry the broader objectives forward, he will be welcoming several of these leaders next month at the G20 Summit.
Moreover, with the increasing economic heft of the BRICS, the non-western model need not necessarily be anti-western. Amen.
This article was first published at cnbctv18.com on August 26,2023
Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organization.
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This article was posted by Chaitanya Deshpande, a research intern at IMPRI.