More Self Reliance than US Reliance Promoted as BRICS 2018 Summit also Calls for Expansion

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The annual BRICS nations summit has just concluded in Johannesburg with the overall mood and visions continuing the pattern I saw emerge at the St.Petersburg International Economic Forum in May. On display was a bullish attitude that the United States is proving unreliable and that a new world order – some called it a fourth industrial revolution – needs to be ushered in.

The BRICS nations – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, were meeting together under the common banner “BRICS In Africa.” Present were Brazilian President Michel Temer, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chinese President Xi Jinping and the 2018 host, President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa. In the BRICS Africa Outreach section, the invited countries included the Presidents of Rwanda, Uganda, Togo, Zambia, Namibia, Senegal, Gabon, Ethiopia, Angola, and the African Union Chair. Additional attendees included the Presidents or Prime Ministers of Argentina, Botswana, Congo, Egypt, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Seychelles, Tanzania, Turkey, Zimbabwe, and Jamaica.

The BRICS bloc comprises 41 percent of the global population and about 30 percent of the world’s land mass. The five members currently make up about 23 percent of global GDP, worth about US$41 trillion, and about 18 percent of all trade. GDP growth among the BRICS members has steadily increased as a whole from 3.5 percent in 2015 and 4.2 percent in 2016 to 5.1 percent in 2017, although growth rates among individual members remains uneven.

A number of common goals and development statements were made, with the “Johannesburg Declaration” being adopted and signed off by all leaders. Highlights of this agreement are as follows:

  • The BRICS leaders jointly reaffirmed their commitment to the principles of mutual respect, sovereign equality, democracy, inclusiveness, and strengthened collaboration. They reject growing unilateralism and reiterate a commitment to the strengthening of multilateral institutions, calling for stronger intra-trade within member states.
  • A reaffirmation of commitment to fully implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to provide equitable, inclusive, open, all-round innovation-driven and sustainable development, in its three dimensions — economic, social and environmental — in a balanced and integrated manner, towards the ultimate goal of eradicating poverty by 2030.
  • Welcoming the progress made towards finalizing the Work Programme under the Paris Agreement and expressed their willingness to continue working constructively with other Parties to conclude its related negotiations at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) towards the 24th Conference of the Parties (UNFCCC COP24), which is to be held in Katowice, Poland in December 2018. They further called upon all countries to fully implement the Paris Agreement including the principles of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities and urged the developed countries to provide financial, technological and capacity-building support to developing countries to enhance their capability in mitigation and adaptation.
  • An agreement to strengthen BRICS cooperation in energy, especially in transitioning to more environmentally sustainable energy systems supportive of the global sustainable development agenda and balanced economic growth. They also agreed to strive toward universal energy access, energy security, energy affordability, reduced pollution and environmental conservation. They acknowledged that the BRICS Ministers of Energy agreed to establish the BRICS Energy Research Cooperation Platform and to develop its Terms of Reference.
  • Reaffirmation of support for the establishment of the BRICS Agricultural Research Platform (ARP) initiated by India in 2016. They agreed to strengthen the agricultural research collaborative networks among the BRICS countries to enhance the resilience of the collective agricultural and food systems in the face of the changing climate. They committed to step up intra-BRICS collaboration including within the frame of the Agriculture Research Platform and the Basic Agriculture Information Exchange System (BAIES).
  • Agreement to enhance cooperation and collaboration amongst BRICS countries in the field of biodiversity conservation, sustainable use and equitable access and benefit sharing of biological resources.
  • Commitment to the continued implementation of the Agenda for BRICS cooperation on population matters 2015-2020, which was agreed to by the Ministers responsible for Population Matters in 2014. The dynamics of population age structure changes in BRICS countries pose challenges and present opportunities, particularly with regard to gender inequality and women’s rights, youth development, employment and the future of work, urbanisation, migration and ageing.
  • Commitment to support international cooperation in combating illicit financial flows, including cooperation within Financial Actions Task Force (FATF) and World Customs Organisation. Condemning corruption as a global challenge, the leaders committed to strengthening international cooperation within the context of the BRICS Working Group on Anticorruption Cooperation. The leaders agreed to cooperate in anti-corruption law enforcement, extradition of fugitives, economic and corruption offenders and repatriation in matters relating to assets recovery and other related criminal and non-criminal matters involving corruption and call on the International community to deny safe haven to corrupt persons and proceeds of corruption.

In terms of the economy and trade, the following resolutions were passed:

  • Continued use of fiscal, monetary and structural policies in tandem with each other, to create strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth. There was concern at the spill-over effects of macro-economic policy measures in “some major advanced economies” (read: The United States) that may cause economic and financial volatility in emerging economies and impact their growth prospects adversely. The BRICS leaders desire major advanced and emerging market economies to continue policy dialogue and coordination in the context of the G20, FSB and other forums to address these potential risks. Recalling the Johannesburg Summit’s focus on the 4th Industrial Revolution and the outcomes of the BRICS Meetings of Science and Technology and Industry Ministers, the leaders commended the establishment of the BRICS Partnership on New Industrial Revolution (PartNIR). For the full operationalisation of PartNIR, an Advisory Group will be set up, comprising respective representatives of BRICS Ministries of Industry, to develop the Terms of Reference and a Work Plan, which is to be submitted to the BRICS Chair. PartNIR aims to deepen BRICS cooperation in digitalisation, industrialisation, innovation, inclusiveness and investment and to maximise the opportunities and address the challenges arising from the 4th Industrial Revolution.
  • Recognising that the multilateral trading system is facing unprecedented challenges, the group underscored the importance of an open world economy, enabling all countries and peoples to share the benefits of globalisation, which should be inclusive and support sustainable development and prosperity of all countries. They called upon all WTO members to abide by WTO rules and honour their commitments in the multilateral trading system.

Bilateral meetings were held between Chinese President Xi Jinping and India’s Nerendra Modi, their third meeting in the past three months. Xi also met with Russian President Putin, while advocating the expansion of the summit to become the “BRICS Plus”. Primary tier one candidates include Argentina, Egypt, Turkey and Uganda. Putin and Modi also held bilateral discussions.

While the “Johannesburg Declaration” contains fairly bland language, its contents are in places at the opposite spectrum from current policy adopted by Washington. The BRICS countries have agreement on climate change measures and adherence to the Paris Agreement, in addition to the promotion of free trade and reduction of tariff barriers – the polar opposite to Donald Trump’s current position. The bloc also agreed to deepen cooperation and research with the establishment of several important new directives, among them PartNIR, BAIES, and ARP, all important initiatives in finding common ground in digital technologies, industrialisation and agriculture.

China will soon be hosting the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in September, while this BRICS summit came hot on the heels of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisations annual meeting, which again included China, India and Russia in Qingdao a few weeks back.

What it obvious is that a determined push is being made to gradually deleverage from the influence of the United States in global trade. There is almost an attitude that global diplomatic participation and even trade with the US is no longer the pre-requisite it once was. Chinese President Xi termed this “The Fourth Industrial Revolution”. It is apparent from forums such as BRICS that this ideal is taking root, and is evolving at a growing pace.

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