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COVID-19 Hits Hard, But Challenges BRICS

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By and large, the coronavirus pandemic has taken a huge toll on Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS). The pandemic, declared late January by the World Health Organization (WHO), allegedly originated (yet to be proved) from Wuhan city in China. However, the World Health Assembly on May 18-19 by a resolution agreed to launch an investigation into the origin of the disease, whose unyielding march across the globe since last year and has already left more than 320,000 dead.

Statistics made available as at May 20, showed that Brazil (310,087) in South America, Russia (317,554) in Eastern Europe or compared to, say in the former Soviet region, India (118,447) and China (84,507) both in Asian region, and South Africa (19,137) in Africa.  It means South Africa, with a population 57 million, has one-fifth of the total confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa.

Further, assessing BRICS countries population in relation to the number of infections, Russia seems the worst spot among BRICS, and has taken the second highest in the world and that was followed in the third position by Brazil. Under a “pessimistic scenario”, the number of active cases could peak again when the expected “second wave of coronavirus” sets in and if strict precautions are not observed.

The COVID-19 has shattered nearly all economies. But at the same time, just as the COVID-19 has offered opportunities, so it also presents significant challenges. In the world including BRICS countries, the outlook remains bleak. BRICS is interested in both, taking advantage of the emerging opportunities and dealing with the challenges.

Experts have argued that BRICS members meet to discuss various global issues, and plan its joint collaborative projects on the global landscape. Comparatively, Russia, India and China, all these three still respond individually to varying opportunities and pursue different investment in the world. 

As experts noted, China and India lead in the pursuit of economic spheres of influence worldwide. Geography of investment largely explains why China and India seem to be leading, followed by Russia, among the five. With regard to coronavirus and the operations of WHO, Chinese President Xi Jinping, delivering a speech via video link at the opening of the World Health Assembly, pledges $2 billion to deal with COVID-19.

According to an executive decree published in April on the official website of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Russia contributed $1 million to the World Health Organization (WHO) to fight the coronavirus. Figures unavailable for Brazil, India and South Africa.

Still put them together, BRICS is an upcoming and developing force to reckon with. Thus on May 7, Russia’s Health Ministry held a meeting of BRICS countries via videoconference focusing, particularly, on the issue of the novel coronavirus pandemic discussed joint efforts needed by BRICS countries. It was held within the framework of Russia’s BRICS chair-ship.

Participants from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa discussed at the meeting all aspects, including measures on liquidation of the novel coronavirus infection, and submitted report to BRICS Health Ministries. “It is planned that the online platform will provide partners with an opportunity to share BRICS countries’ experience and develop joint steps towards reaching a better understanding of the ways to liquidate the COVID-19 outbreak,” according to the report.

The participating officials agreed that it is important to strengthen international cooperation, within the framework of which there has to be a transparent and timely exchange of information.

During the discussions, the countries also agreed to continue providing mutual support in activities to prevent and treat the novel coronavirus infection COVID-19, as well as to create favorable conditions for the supply of deliveries of medications and diagnostic materials, immune-biological preparations and medical equipment.

Under an “optimistic scenario”, the BRICS meeting by Health Ministers of BRICS countries pledged to adopt further collaborative steps as their collective contributions toward the eradication of the global pandemic.

It is worth to say that BRICS has to accelerate the implementation of some of its earlier initiatives. Over the years, the BRICS has wanted to expand cooperation in the fight against infections and the joint production and use of vaccines. Cooperation on countering infectious diseases has long been a priority for BRICS. For instance, the final declaration of the 2015 BRICS summit in Ufa, Russia, contains instructions by the leaders to work on managing the risk of disease outbreaks.

That declaration stated: “we commend the efforts made by the BRICS countries to contribute to enhanced international cooperation to support the efforts of countries to achieve their health goals, including the implementation of universal and equitable access to health services, and ensure affordable, good-quality service delivery while taking into account different national circumstances, policies, priorities and capabilities.”

Last month for instance, BRICS Ministers of Foreign Affairs /International Relations held a video conference chaired by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Brazilian Foreign Affairs Minister Ernesto Araújo, Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and South African Minister of International Relations Grace Naledi Pandor took part in the meeting.

China and Russia have strong working relationship and both are members of BRICS. Russia objects to attempts by the United States to turn the World Health Organization (WHO) into a forum for settling political scores, Minister Lavrov said with colleagues during the video conference of BRICS Foreign Ministers held late April. Russia has been working closely together with China, and Russia has no reason to oppose China, according to Minister Lavrov.

Key Highlights from that meeting included:

The BRICS nations agreed to allocate $15 billion to the New Development Bank (NDB) so that it could set up a special loan instrument to support the revival of economies and help meet the emergency expenses incurred for responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

The BRICS nations further held discussions on ways to step up cooperation within the bloc to contain coronavirus pandemic, as well as to revive the economies that have received a major blow due to the travel restrictions and lockdown imposed in most countries to curb the spread of coronavirus. 

The meeting underlined the need for reforms in the multilateral systems and stated that this was the way forward. The bloc reiterated its support towards the World Health Organization, stating that it is a very important and unique platform, which employs the best professionals from around the world, including from the United States.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called on all the BRICS members to firmly stand by multilateralism, by the international system centered around the United Nations and by the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter.

Throughout 2020, – under the theme “BRICS Partnership for Global Stability, Shared Security and Innovative Growth” – Russia holds the BRICS pro tempore presidency.

The emphasis of the Russian presidency is on promoting science, technology and innovation and digital economy and health, and strengthening cooperation in the fight against transnational crimes. In addition to those, dozens of academic, sporting, cultural and artistic events planned for the year, culminates with the final BRICS Summit on July 21−23 in St Petersburg, chosen as the venue in accordance with the Presidential Executive Order No. 380 of 15 August 2019.

BRICS is the group composed by the five major emerging countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, – which together represent about 42% of the population, 23% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), 30% of the territory and 18% of the global trade.

MD Africa Editor Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

Economy

Guangdong special economic zones at China

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Guangdong Province in southern China is distinguished by the economic development. The sign been approached by “Made In Guangdong” is becoming so famous globally, besides the Guangdong industries and its unique culture.

  Guangdong represents one of the most important provinces of China for a number of political, economic, social and natural reasons. Indications of the success of the openness experiment pursued by China since the late seventies of the last century are evident in it.

Guangdong special economic zones have made great achievements. As the province with the largest economic output in China, south China’s Guangdong Province has achieved tremendous economic development in the past 40 years, thanks to the establishment of special economic zones.

 According to my information, the Guangdong region has established the “Zhuhai Doumen” intelligent manufacturing economic development zone recently, after the Guangdong Provincial Government officially approved the establishment of the “Zhuhai Doumen intelligent manufacturing economic development zone”, which will implement the existing provincial-level economic development zone policy.  It is the third regional economic development zone in “Zhuhai” after “Foshan Industrial Park and Liangang Industrial Zone”.

 Guangdong Province is an economic powerhouse in southern China, and the province will promote high-quality development this year by fostering new engines of growth and strengthening cooperation and communication in the regions of (Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay) to deepen reform and opening up.

 Guangdong Province, a major part of China’s foreign trade and industrial hub, accounts for about one-tenth of China’s GDP and is the largest of all Chinese provinces.

 Guangdong Province pays close attention to the progress of China’s modernization and the overall picture of reform and opening-up and major national strategic planning. It firmly attaches importance to the reform and opening-up policy by strengthening cooperation between the province and the “Hong Kong and Macao” regions, aligning the development of Guangdong with the “Northern Metropolis” plan of Hong Kong and the economic diversification strategy of Macao, implementing the “Greater Bay Area Connection” project in a more in-depth way, and working with “Hong Kong and Macao” together to build a world-class bay area, injecting vigor and strong impetus into its modernization efforts”.

 It Is remarkable that most of the cities of Guangdong Province are crowded with visitors from all over the world, especially Arabs and Africans, who come to them for the purpose of trade and search for investment. The province is considered one of the regions characterized by the diversity of its industries, quality and attractive prices, as well as commercial activities in various fields.

 It Is also distinguished by the beauty and sophistication of its buildings, which embody the aesthetics of modern Chinese architecture, as well as the spread of green spaces and vibrant squares throughout the day. It is also distinguished in terms of weather, with its atmosphere that resembles the tropical atmosphere with heavy rain, and the various cities of Guangdong Province are also characterized by easy access to it from different parts of the world throughout the day, as well as ease of movement between its various cities, thanks to the presence of an infrastructure that makes most of the cities of the province at the forefront of attractive cities for investment globally.

  Due to the existence of the commercial ports, Guangdong has a long experience in terms of commercial exchanges regionally and globally.

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The Theatrics of the US Debt Ceiling: Fiscal Austerity or Political Brinkmanship?

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It amazes me sometimes how pointless some discussions are to begin with, yet the hype they garner is just outrageous compared to relatively pressing issues in the mainstream spotlight. I am no Democrat supporter or even a backer of Mr. Biden – as my columns would effectively relay. But I am also no fan of idiocy when I see it (also apparent in my writings). And the ongoing tensions lacing the US polity, unfortunately, qualify that criterion by a long shot. While the debate around the debt limit is neither novel nor unprecedented, the preachy statements posited in the US Congress to justify the GOP posturing are downright ridiculous. But even if we don ignorance and accept their premise as is, I fail to see any alternative path toward economic balance and prosperity – assuming that is actually the end goal of the Republican lawmakers.

Before even delving into the nitty-gritty of the debt ceiling saga, let’s get some ambiguities clear and out of the way. The debt limit is a statutory cap on the total amount of money the US federal government is authorized to borrow. Currently, that amount stands at $31.4 trillion – already reached about two weeks ago. However, breaching that limit is well-nigh avertable: All the US Congress needs to do is raise that limit higher, and the chaos would disappear overnight. No risking the smooth functioning of the money markets, no pressure on the Treasury and the Federal Reserve, and no uncertainty while the world grapples with demons on geopolitical and economic fronts. But what about fiscal responsibility? Since 2001, the United States has consistently rolled around with budget deficits year after year and filled the gap with excessive borrowing to meet its financial obligations. In that period, the US has accreted about $20 trillion in national debt; debt held by the public as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has roughly tripled from 32% to 94%. Even for an economy as omnipotent as the United States, that’s prohibitive. But we need a thorough comparison to realize the underlying trends – both on the macroeconomic and political scale.

The US last enjoyed a fiscal surplus during the presidency of a Republican. Mr. George W. Bush. But you rarely witness a vociferous detour around that nook of history by any GOP members. It is perhaps because he squandered that surplus on tax cuts for the wealthy. Or on the invasion of Iraq. While one led to more inequity in an already lopsided social demography, the latter ushered those resources to decimate a foreign land on bogus pretenses. Another manifestation of the ‘Trickle-Down economic principle (apparently notorious for the Conservative fractions on both sides of the Atlantic) was during the Trump tenure. Mr. Donald Trump ran through another profligate tax-cutting regime to do good for the US economy. But ironically, the debt ceiling got raised three times during his own term, sans the drama we witness whenever the Republican Party holds either of the chambers of the US Congress but not the presidency. At this point, some people won’t need any more evidence to gauge the true intentions of the right-wing bloc baying for fiscal austerity. But let us sieve through the Democratic rule for a non-partisan outlook.

During the past two decades, only two episodes stand out apropos of record debt as a function of the US economy: the Great Recession 2007-09 and the Covid-19 pandemic. While I admit Mr. Biden’s nearly $2 trillion worth of American Rescue Plan helped (in large part) fuel the current inflation, it also helped avoid a devastating recession and jumpstart a speedy recovery. It kept businesses running, people employed, and spending buoyed. Notwithstanding that the unemployment rate in America is still at a multi-decade low, the economy could very well trip into another recession as the Fed moves aggressively to blunt the pain of price increases. But insofar as projections go, it appears that the American economy would brush past a prolonged recession and manage a relatively softer landing. According to recent estimates, annualized inflation has slowed consistently for the past six months, dipping to 6.5% from a summer peak of 9%. While the Republicans tried effortlessly to channel their narrative around the economy, their embarrassing rout during the Midterm elections was a testament to the facetious nature of their claims. 

Then there was the infamous standoff in 2011. We all know how the markets got rattled; borrowing costs spiked; and why the S&P downgraded the credit rating of US debt, even though we didn’t actually breach the limit. But we rarely ask: Why did the Obama administration end up with a debt of such mammoth magnitude? The answer is obvious. The Great Recession dried up tax receipts as the economy plunged into turmoil; the social safety net programs swelled, especially as spending on unemployment benefits soared. In 2008, the federal budget deficit stood at $458.6 billion, which staggered to $1.4 trillion in the subsequent year. Despite that, it took roughly eight years for unemployment to return to normality. Had the government raised taxes or cut spending drastically, the US would have witnessed something like Great Britain.

In the aftermath of the financial crisis, while America sustained spending to bolster the economy via borrowing, the Tory-led British government embarked on an austerity drive: Annual expenditure, as a percentage of GDP, was cut from 46% to 36%; spending on health infrastructure dragged down by half over the last decade. In hindsight, the difference is remarkable. While American wages have just stagnated over the course of the past 15 years, real wages in Britain have declined over the same period. While the US still contends with a rousing China for global economic superiority, Britain got recently supplanted by India (its former colony) as the fifth-largest economy in the world. The story couldn’t be any more lucid. 

Ultimately, the GOP political mumble of “adding guardrails” and “fiscal reforms” to bend the debt curve might be politically splendid, but to an economic mind, it is frankly garbage! And I have no doubt that regardless of cogent reasoning, the hardline Republicans would hold the government paralyzed – as was evident when they scrapped concessions from Mr. McCarthy in barter for his post as the House speaker. Nonetheless, the bottom line is that regardless of your disposition – Democrat or Republican, pro-spending or pro-austerity – the debt ceiling is, as aptly verbalized by Senator Ron Wyden, “not about adding new spending,” but “it’s about paying debts that the government [already] owes – debts that were incurred under presidents of both parties.”

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The Prolongation of BRICS: Impact on International World Order and Global Economy

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BRIC, coined by an economist Jim O’Neil in 2001 as an acronym for the four countries like Brazil, Russia, India and China. South Africa joined in 2010 and this organization turned into BRICS. The prime goal of BRICS was to the formation of the diplomatic and economic assistance framework, and the challenges to western influence in the global economic order. The Western cordially welcomed BRICS with the earnestness. The BRICS, five major emerging economies, together represent about 26% of the world’s geographic area, inhabitant of 2.88 Billion people which is about 42% of the world’s population and accounted for a quarter of the global GDP. The enlargement of BRICS was talked on June, 2022 at the groups summit which took place in Beijing. The 2023 summit will take place in South Africa. 

Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov stated that Algeria, Argentina and Iran have already applied for joining in BRICS. In contrast, Saudi Arabia, Turkey , Egypt have declared their intense interest for becoming the member of BRICS and they are already engaged in the membership process. Now the question is what outcomes or impacts may be happened in the International world order and global economy in order to the expanding of BRICS?

Russia is the second largest producer of crude oil among OPEC+ members. Russia is a self-contained of its oil production. Because of Russia-Ukraine War, America and its European allies imposed sanctions on Russia and some European countries minimized their dependency on Russian oil. China imports its oil from Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iraq, Oman, Brazil and Kuwait. China increases at 21% its imports crude oil from Russia in 2022. The  member of OPEC+ decided to reduced their oil production by 2Million barrels per day two month before and it will continue in the end of 2023. The U.S.A and other western countries aggravated. 

Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s largest crude oil exporters, 11% of the world’s petroleum liquid production and has 15% of the world’s oil reserves. Recently it has declared that it will take initiatives to boost its oil production from 10 to 13 Million barrels per day. Egypt is a prominent petroleum producer and exporter. Egypt exports cotton and textiles, raw materials, chemical products and petroleum products. Egypt is a dialogue partner to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Iran is the world’s largest hydrocarbon Reserves in the world. Western world impose sanctions again and again. Iran is also the member of OPEC+ and Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Algeria, 10th largest natural gas reserver and 6th largest gas exporter. It is also a member of OPEC+. Turkey exports motor vehicles and their parts, gold and petroleum oil. It is the world’s 7th exporters of cotton. Argentina is a major exporter of wheat and corn. 

If Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Argentina, Turkey become the member of BRICS, it will enormous impact on the World order and global economy. 

1. The sphere of influence of the oil producer countries will be strengthen. The structure of oil market in the global economy will be changed. 

2. Lula da Silva, President of Brazil suggested to make a common currency for the BRICS countries. If it takes place, a more stable currency will be created. 

3. As China, Russia, Iran have a rivalry with the U.S.A, they will make more alliances to combat the U.S.A influence in the world. 

4. As the U.S dollar is the world’s dominant currency in the global financial and monetary system, and it is the Centre of U.S.A global leadership, the monopolistic influence of Dollar will be undermined. If BRICS countries will reach an agreement to continue their trade through a common currency, De-dollarization will be accelerated. 

5. As Turkey, Algeria, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and others have already shown their interest to join BRICS, it will accelerate to boost BRICS global influence. Russia, China will lead collectively in the world order. 

6. Most of the countries reserve crisis will be resolved. 

7. Saudi Arabia, Russia, Brazil will be able to export their oil collectively to China, India, Egypt and Turkey. China is Saudi Arabia’s biggest trading partner with more than $50 Billion. 

8. The investment of China and Russia in African continent will be extended. China is the largest trading partner of South Africa. South Africa is more advanced than any other countries of Africa because of its natural wealth and location. 

9. De-Dollarization will deteriorate the U.S.A capability to alter the behavior its opponents. If BRICS continuously expand, China will easily promote its agenda and grand strategy in the world. 

10. According to World Bank, BRICS grew at an average of 6.26 percent in 2021. On the contrary, G7 grew at 5.15%. If BRICS continues to attract other countries to join, it will emerge as a powerful force of the global leadership. The GDP is hoped to double to 50% of global GDP by 2030.

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