On July 25 -27, South Africa hosted the 10th BRICS summit (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), an important milestone as it represents a decade of its cooperation, in Johannesburg’s Sandton Convention Center. As Chairman of 2018 BRICS summit, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa hosted the (BRIC) namely Brazilian President Michel Temer, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
It was under the theme “BRICS in Africa: Collaboration for Inclusive Growth and Shared Prosperity in the 4th Industrial Revolution.” All the five BRICS leaders participated in official, private and expanded meetings, and signed documents.
They have primarily expressed high commitment to further strengthening of the full-fledged strategic partnership, secondly recognized the overall emerging tasks, challenges and opportunities, and thirdly most importantly to determine the key priorities of the «Big Five» activities for years ahead.
On both days, July 26 to 27, there several scheduled sessions that involved BRICS leaders and non-BRICS countries invited to the summit. The summit was an expanded-format. In 2013, when South Africa first hosted a BRICS summit, it invited a number of African leaders.
Russia Leads the Way
Russian leader Vladimir Putin made the Group’s position known during his final media conference held at the 2018 BRICS summit in Johannesburg, South Africa.
He said that “BRICS is an organic association of countries that have many things in common: they have many shared interests and common approaches to addressing challenges that are relevant to all of humanity, including Russia. This is one of its key advantages, and today, many countries are showing an interest in BRICS.”
“Concerning the group’s expansion, BRICS Plus and Outreach format have already been created to this effect. For now, we agreed to rely on these formats for expanding our reach and drawing into our orbit countries that share the underlying principles and values of BRICS,” the President said.
While many viewed the existing formats of interaction effective, Putin explained that any questions regarding BRICS enlargement in future would definitely need additional thorough discussions and final consideration.
“But so far, we have no plans to expand BRICS membership, since the existing formats have proven effective. As for discussions of issues we intend to address, these are issues relevant for a vast majority of countries and economies around the world. The sky is the limit for us,” the Russian leader explained.
“They are willing to cooperate with other countries and do not rule out BRICS expansion in the future but they believe that it requires additional analysis. This does not mean that the organization is closed, that its doors are closed. No, it is just that this issue should be properly analysed. Otherwise, the organization is open to anyone,” Putin stressed at the media conference.
Historically, the first meeting of the Group began in St Petersburg in 2005. It was called RIC, which stood for Russia, India and China. Brazil and subsequently South Africa joined later, which is why now it is refered to as BRICS.
Initially, the goals and tasks were very modest, primarily focus on the economy, and the coordination of efforts toward attaining more ambitious goals. As more members joined the Group, it developed into a full-scale organisation with new spheres of activity and broader common interests.
BRICS Expansion Still the hottest question
Understandably, BRICS leaders’ common position on the question of expansion was previously shared this way: BRICS countries represent a major stabilizing factor promoting sound multilateral initiatives in global affairs.
The fact that Pretoria has paid a special attention to Africa-related issues in the work of BRICS, other friends of the five countries from around the world representing authoritative integration associations participated in the 10th summit. This was the practical implementation of the «BRICS plus» initiative approved by the Group leaders during the Xiamen Summit.
Thus, 2018 Johannesburg summit expanded the global reach of the Group and established the outer circle of like-minded countries. In this regard, BRICS has good potential to become a unique platform for linking various integration processes in a flexible way.
Furthermore, BRICS has many current challenges and tasks to manage in the face of global transformation. It is important for BRICS to seek new initiatives, strategies, and policies that can potentially challenge the global order. Experts have expressed different views:
Nandan Unnikrishnan, Research Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, India: There is nothing wrong in trying to expand the BRICS if the new countries meet the criteria of what BRICS represents and their entry adds to the cohesion of the grouping. However, it appears that at this stage of the evolution of BRICS the need of the hour is not expansion, but consolidation. Given developments in the world as well as in each of the BRICS countries, it appears that BRICS needs to catch its breath and regain the momentum that originally infused the grouping.
Secondly, BRICS is quite clear about the Africa’s developmental needs. The question is whether in their current circumstances they have the wherewithall to mobilise the necessary resources to actively propel Africa’s development over and above their bilateral commitments to African countries. All the BRICS countries are facing economic challenges that they need to address urgently. But in the long-run, BRICS is keenly aware of the importance of contributing towards Africa’s development agenda.
Charles Robertson, Chief Economist at Renaissance Capital: The BRICS was just a concept from Goldman’s with little intellectual coherence beyond the fact that 1) all four of the original BRIC countries had a-historically low GDP and were likely to rebound in size, 2) they were populous, 3) there were among them two commodity importers and two commodity exporters among them. South Africa was a late minor addition to the group, to add a “bridgehead to Africa” angle.
So, could it expand – yes. Why? Because the BRICS are under-represented in the global financial architecture. Europe and the US dominate institutions like the IMF and the World Bank, and to some extent the UN, the WTO, the ADB, the IADB, NATO etc.
Russia and others in the BRICS would like to see larger power centres emerge to offer an alternative to that Western dominated construct. That is reasonable enough – providing there are countries with the money to backstop the new institutions, such as China supporting the BRICS bank, and if the countries offer an alternative vision that provides benefits to new members. But, would a broader BRICS + body offer tariff free access to their markets as the EU and the US can? I doubt that. Can they offer financing via a BRICS bank. Perhaps.
Would there be a unified BRICS approach to Africa. I doubt it. I suspect the only unified stance would be one supporting non-interference in domestic affairs – but to be honest, there is little interest in the US or UK to get very involved in Africa either (Libya is one prominent exception), so there is relatively little to oppose.
Professor Georgy Toloraya, Russian National Committee for BRICS Research: “Now, is a very good time to show that BRICS members and relations between them are an alternative to the format existing in the West,” Executive Director of the Russian National Committee for BRICS Research, Georgy Toloraya, told the Kommersant – a Russian daily business newspaper, adding that “BRICS favors order, compliance with agreements and development.” Plans are in store to expand the group, so the leaders of Argentina, Turkey, Indonesia and some African countries invited to the summit.
According to Toloraya, India is currently opposed to expanding BRICS fearing that new members will support China. On the other hand, Moscow argues that “the entrance ticket” to the group is independence and sovereignty, and under no circumstance, potential candidates can be called China’s satellites.
Many Experts interviewed shared the same sentiments. BRICS creation based on the principle of equality so it is very difficult to reach a compromise among so different countries. The number of members cannot be to big anyway as BRICS comprise big emerging economies and regional powers with a certain unique civilizational features.
There are not so many countries like that – they would include Indonesia, Mexico, Turkey, Egypt and Iran… But there are certain political requirements for new members – including recognition of BRICS values and core foreign policy principles. Experts have suggested the creation of “observer status” and “partners for dialogue” platforms within the group.
The BRICS member countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) collectively represent about 26% of the world’s geographic area and are home to 2.88 billion people, about 42% of the world’s population.