Despite the growth in numbers, which may require a name change, BRICS looks poised to grow in importance. How the members organise to provide public goods, however, will define it legacy.
The BRICS summit took place on 22-24 August, 2023, in Johannesburg, South Africa under the theme BRICS and Africa: Partnership for Mutually Accelerated Growth, Sustainable Development and Inclusive Multilateralism. With intense debate and discussion on issues, including inclusive multilateralism, sustainable development, people to people exchange, and institutional development, the summit concluded by adopting a declaration titled: Johannesburg II Declaration. The summit witnessed participation of all key leaders across the member states; China, India, Brazil and South Africa, with the exception Russian President Vladimir Putin. As per Russian official communication, the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine did not allow time to participate in person to the summit. However, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued an arrest warrant against Putin for his war crimes in Ukraine and many believe that Putin’s absence at the BRICS summit was a way to avoid his arrest in South Africa.
At least six outcomes stand out from the BRICS summit 2023.
First is the decision on the BRICS expansion. This summit has unanimously decided to invite six countries to become full members, and include Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates. These countries will join BRICS from 1 January, 2024. The quick inclusion of these countries has been pending for some time. The expansion hints at what looks like a strong Russia-China imprint to build a geopolitical counterweight to the US. However for India, Egypt, UAE, Iran, and Saudi Arabia also have strong relationships. On June 2023 India and Egypt elevated their ties to the strategic partnership level in the field of defense, security, trade, renewable energies, and cultural and people-to-people ties. For India, the UAE is the third largest trade partner with US$60 billion in current estimated two-way trade. Iran and Saudi Arabia also maintain close political and economic ties with the sub-continent.
With the addition of six new members, BRICS now has 30 percent of the world economy within its collaboration, with a combined GDP of US$30.76 trillion. It also constitutes 40 percent of the world’s population. The necessity of expanding trade and investment among the BRICS member states and strengthening their relations was emphasised by the summit leaders. By 2050, leaders at the summit hope to account for 50 percent of the world’s GDP, which will fundamentally change the economic landscape.
Second, leaders of the BRICS members at the summit declared their intention to reduce dependency on the US dollar and to increase the pace of de-dollarisation in global commerce. They also discussed currency alternatives such as including the potential development of a shared currency. The BRICS New Development Bank, for instance, was proffered as a concrete step away from the dollar, with plans to lend in South African Rand and the Brazilian Real. However, because of the very limited use and reach of the currencies beyond South Africa and Brazil, these efforts are mostly idealistic. Experts suspect that a complete challenge to the US dollar’s dominance in global commerce remains a tough task due to limited intra-BRICS trade.
Beyond these developments, the BRICS summit showed that the possibility of a common trading system or BRICS currency was growing interest. Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva advocated for the BRICS currency by highlighting its benefits for the member states. Via Video, Russian President Vladimir Putin criticised the dollar dominance and US sanctions for global economic volatility and emphasised the benefits of de-dollarization for BRICS nations. The 2024 summit of BRICS, which will be held in Russia, will likely pursue the issue further.
Third, Leaders at the summit also strongly expressed that inclusive multilateralism and global governance could be achieved by the promotion of efficient representation, effective democracy, and reform of international organisations. The summit supported comprehensive reform of the United Nations (UN) system, including the United Nation Security Council (UNSC), to strengthen the representation of developing countries in the UN councils. In addition, the summit leaders agreed to cooperate on strengthening and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms under the principle of mutual respect.
Fourth, the BRICS summit members agreed to extend their support for an African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). The summit stressed the value of the political stability of the African continent in building market certainty. Leaders at the summit also explored potential ways and methods to strengthen communication and cooperation to expand AfCFTA. If successful, and if implementation moves ahead, such a move by the BRICS countries will help foster new dynamics of engagement, and on several other contemporary issues such as drug trafficking and terrorism.
Fifth, the summit saw a stronger focus on investing in agriculture and green economy. A panel discussion at the summit stressed transitioning to a green economy with an aim to promote eco-friendly jobs, fostering low-carbon and sustainable practices. India’s expanding electric car market along with China’s capacity to generate more solar energy than all other countries was highlighted as an opportunity for green growth.
The summit also discussed increasing population in BRICS countries and their increasing food security concerns. In order to improve food security, lower costs, and to achieve a carbon neutral economy, BRICS leaders favoured the role of modern technology in advancing agriculture. They also hoped to make Africa a global food basket.
Last, a major development occurred during the summit where both India and China agreed to set up efforts to reduce tensions at the disputed border. After the summit the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi tweeted that Xi Jinping had expressed a desire to improve India-China relations as serving common interests. This is likely to be seen as a step toward peace, stability, and prosperity in the region and the world.
With that being said, a few days after the summit, the Chinese government released a disputed map showing India’s territories (Arunachal Pradesh and Laddakh) as a part of China. This surprise act from China just after the BRICS summit strengthened suspicion among Indians about Chinese intensions irrespective of promises made at the summit.
BRICS has the potential to play a significant role in global affairs which would require the principle of respect for cultural and civilisational diversity, as well as the strive for maintaining internal stability, and ensuring global economic growth. Moreover, the expansion of its membership from five to eleven countries reflects its intentions to strengthen its global standing.
Pramod Kumar is a PhD candidate at the Center for Russian and Central Asian Studies (CRCAS), School of International Studies, JNU, New Delhi, India. He post- graduated in Political Science with International Relations from Jadavpur University Kolkata.
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