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Partnership for positive change in a highly polarised world

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Picture: GCIS Minister in the Presidency responsible for State Security Agency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, centre front, hosts her BRICS counterparts together with dignitaries from invited countries this week in Johannesburg, ahead of next month’s 15th BRICS leaders’ summit.

By Anil Sooklal

South Africa chairs BRICS this year, which includes hosting the much anticipated BRICS Head of States Summit at the Sandton International Convention Centre in Johannesburg from August 22 to 24. The theme is BRICS and Africa: Partnership for Mutually Accelerated Growth, Sustainable Development, and Inclusive Multilateralism, which consists of four key elements.

First, it continues the partnership between Africa and BRICS which was launched during South Africa’s first chairpersonship (chairship) in 2013. Second, it seeks to address inclusive global economic growth in the post-Covid era, specifically looking at the role BRICS can play in facilitating mutually accelerated and inclusive growth. Third, the pandemic has had an adverse effect on meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In this regard, BRICS will seek to co-ordinate actions to achieve the SDGs as per the schedule of Agenda 2030. Fourth, BRICS will continue to focus on its commitments to inclusive multilateralism and its repeated calls for the reform of the global multilateral architecture.

BRICS seeks to provide leadership and momentum towards inclusive global economic growth, sustainable development and inclusion of Africa and the Global South in a more diverse, inclusive, representative and fairer international system.

The theme also informs the five priorities for the year:

  1. Developing a partnership towards a just and equitable transition.
  2. Transforming education and skills development for the future.
  3. Unlocking opportunities through the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement.
  4. Strengthening post-pandemic socio-economic recovery and the attainment of the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development.
  5. Strengthening multilateralism, including working towards real reform of global governance institutions and enhancing meaningful participation of women in peace processes.

The theme and deliverables highlight the increasing importance of collaboration, co-operation, convergence, partnerships and functional coherence between BRICS, Africa and the Global South. South Africa will aim to consolidate and expand upon BRICS collaborations, with a further focus on areas such as fairer trade, national currencies, more inclusive economic investment, infrastructure development, information and communication technology, sustainable development and people-to-people exchanges.

By fostering more inclusive economic integration and inclusive multilateralism, BRICS intends to create an enabling environment for more shared and more inclusive growth and prosperity for all. In addition, BRICS will also explore avenues for enhancing South-South co-operation, innovation, technology transfer and addressing the developmental challenges faced by BRICS, Africa and the developing world.

It is widely recognised that BRICS holds immense importance in the contemporary global political, economic and financial landscape. BRICS accounts for 30 percent of the global land mass, 42 percent of the world’s population, 25 percent of global gross domestic product and a substantial and ever-increasing share of global trade. Therefore, BRICS, as a collective and as individual countries, as well as in partnership with the marginalised Global South, is strategically positioned to champion the principles of multi-polarity, multilateralism, multiculturalism and a multi-civilisational global community.

By leveraging its collective strengths and partnerships, BRICS will continue to advance the creation of a new international architecture that breaks with the unfair and archaic Western world order that has been the dominant force since the end of World War II. BRICS also seeks to ensure that the Global South is no longer marginalised and remains outlier in shaping the new global governance architecture. In this regard, BRICS is open to engaging with all, including countries of the Global North who genuinely seek to work in partnership with the Global South to address the exclusive, unrepresentative and undemocratic world order that is out of sync with the global reality.

Since the introduction in 2013, of BRICS leaders engaging the Global South, through the BRICS Outreach, and since 2017, through the BRICS Plus mechanisms, the bloc has built enduring and trusted partnerships with the developing world. The trust and confidence in BRICS leadership is evident by the large number of countries that have expressed an interest in becoming BRICS members. It is within this context that under China’s leadership in 2022, the issue of expansion came to the fore. BRICS leaders called for discussions on expansion to commence, as articulated in paragraph 73 of the Beijing Declaration.

The BRICS leaders called on their Sherpas to develop guiding principles, standards, criteria and procedures pertaining to expansion. Since assuming the chairship of BRICS, South Africa has been seized with this matter at the level of Sherpa and Sous Sherpa. At the recently concluded Sherpa meeting in Durban on July 5 and 6, BRICS Sherpas finalised the above focus areas, as mandated by the leaders. Recommendations were made in this regard to the BRICS foreign ministers. It is expected that BRICS foreign ministers will further deliberate on the issue of expansion and provide recommendations to the leaders at the forthcoming 15th BRICS summit.

To date, 22 countries, from all regions of the world, have formally sought to become BRICS members. An equal number of countries have also informally expressed an interest in joining BRICS. Noting the above, the 15th BRICS Summit next month represents a pivotal moment for BRICS to strengthen global governance partnerships, foster inclusive economic growth, and champion sustainable development.

South Africa’s chairship also provides an opportunity to demonstrate its continued commitment to multilateralism, multipolarity and multi-culturalism, working in partnership with all and advancing the collective interests of Africa and the Global South. BRICS aims to deepen collaboration, address common challenges, seek mutual solutions and unlock the immense potential between BRICS, Africa, the Global South and the international community. At this critical juncture, characterised by a highly polarised world, BRICS must be a force for positive change and provide the leadership that is expected of it.

BRICS will continue to foster global co-operation, ensuring peace and stability, inclusive economic growth and main-streaming development. BRICS will continue to champion multilateralism with a reformed UN at its centre and respect for international law. The bloc has an opportunity to shape a future that prioritises the needs and aspirations of all equally, in particular, Africa and the Global South.

Prof Anil Sooklal is South Africa’s Ambassador at Large for Asia and BRICS Sherpa