AFR 110623 BRICS
Picture: Russian Foreign Ministry via REUTERS – The foreign ministers of the BRICS nations, seated, pose for a group photo with representatives from other countries who wish to join the bloc – including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Argentina, Egypt, Bangladesh, and Uruguay – during a planning session in Cape Town last week for the 15th BRICS Summit scheduled to take place in Johannesburg in August.
By Sizo Nkala
In preparation for the 15th BRICS Summit in August, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa met in Cape Town last week. About 14 countries, some of which have expressed their desire to join BRICS, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Argentina, Egypt, Bangladesh, and Uruguay, were also invited.
The ministers deliberated on key global issues, including strengthening multilateralism, the implementation of the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, international trade and finance, climate change negotiations and violent conflicts. The ministerial meeting of the respective countries’ top diplomats helps set the agenda for the summit and ensure that bloc members are aligned on important global issues.
The coming summit will be important because it will potentially change the structure and size of the bloc by admitting new members, most likely Iran and Argentina, who have long submitted formal applications to join the group. The presence of the foreign ministers of the two countries in the meeting points to a positive response to their applications and their countries’ imminent membership.
Their possible ascension to the membership of the bloc means BRICS will have representation from the key Middle East region for the first time and also have two of South America’s biggest economies, Brazil and Argentina. With a combined GDP of $847bn (about R16 trillion) and a combined population of 133 million people, Argentina and Iran will surely add immense strategic value to the group.
Their addition will strengthen the BRICS’ case for de-dollarisation and also further shift the global economy towards a South-South orientation through increased volumes of trade, technology transfers, and investments. The meeting discussed issues affecting the global economy and security, including strengthening multilateralism, especially by elevating the central role of the UN as the main platform for sovereign states to co-operate in delivering global public goods.
In a thinly veiled critique of the US and its allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, the ministers registered their concerns on the unilateral imposition of sanctions by the US and its allies on Russia following the latter’s actions in Ukraine. The US actions side-lined the UN, which is the custodian of global peace and security and is responsible for imposing international sanctions.
The ministers called for the reform of the UN Security Council (UNSC), which is a key actor on global security issues to make it more democratic, representative, and effective. The UNSC currently comprises five permanent members: China, the US, France, Russia and the UK. Many feel that the current structure of the UNSC is antiquated as it reflects an old global order which does not exist anymore. With the exclusion of regions like Africa, the Middle East and Latin America, the legitimacy of the UNSC has come under scrutiny, undermining its ability to act effectively.
Still on the reform theme, also discussed in the meeting was the reform of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO). On the WTO, the ministers called for the prioritisation of the least developed countries through preferential and differential treatment, the reform of the dispute settlement system and the selection of new Appellate Body Members.
Regarding the IMF, the meeting called for a new quota system that would ensure that developing countries are empowered, included and well-represented in the IMF structures. The current quota system in the IMF has tilted the balance of power decisively in favour of a few Western countries who also enjoy veto power.
The ministers deserve credit for identifying specific, concrete and critical issues to focus on regarding the global financial and trading systems that affect developing countries and the broader global south. This is a demonstration of the BRICS commitment to voice the concerns and advance the interests of the developing world countries in an international system designed to undermine their growth and welfare. It is also encouraging that the ministers did not dwell on reforming the old institutions but also focused on creating an alternative system through the BRICS New Development Bank, which is intended to enhance financial inclusion.
The meeting also discussed other critical issues including energy security, climate change, violent conflict and global instability, digital technology, terrorism and human rights. On the Ukraine issue, which is the biggest elephant in the room, the ministers reiterated the positions of their governments and called for the peaceful resolution of the conflict through dialogue and diplomacy.
They also encouraged the implementation of the Black Sea Grain Initiative to allow fertilisers and grain to be shipped out of the conflict zone to countries in need. The statement on the RussiaUkraine war was disappointing, because it shows that BRICS is not ready to take a decisive stance on the biggest geopolitical issue in recent years. The group took a similar stance at last year’s summit which had a limited impact on the conflict. If the BRICS bloc is to gain global credibility it needs to act more coherently and decisively on such issues.
Dr Sizo Nkala a Research Fellow at the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Africa-China Studies