By Simi Mehta*
On the margins of the G8 Outreach Summit in 2006, held at St. Petersburg, Russia, BRIC started as a formal grouping after a meeting of the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India and China. The grouping was thereafter formalised during the first meeting of BRIC Foreign Ministers on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York in 2006. In September 2010, it was agreed to include South Africa into the grouping, and thus BRIC became BRICS at the BRIC Foreign Ministers’ meeting in New York.
BRICS is based on two major pillars of cooperation, namely, consultation on issues of mutual interest through meetings of leaders and Ministers of Finance, Trade and Health, Science and Technology, Education, Agriculture, Communication, Labour and others; and practical cooperation in a number of areas through the meetings of Working Groups/Senior Officials.
Regular annual summits as well as meetings of leaders on the margins of G-20 Summits, UNGA sessions, and the like are also held.
The engagement of BRICS countries with the rest of the world in terms of trade flows has increased over time.
Merchandise imports from the world into the BRICS countries have increased from $2.95 trillion in 2012 to $3.03 trillion in 2014. Similarly, the global merchandise exports of the BRICS countries have increased from $3.2 trillion in 2012 to $3.47 trillion in 2014.
Intra-BRICS trade has also been on the rise. In 2012, intra-BRICS trade stood at $281.4 billion and this increased to $297 billion in 2014.
BRICS member states have noted the lack of uniformity in the global economic recovery, marked with significant downside risks for the developing countries. As a solution, they have called for strengthening of macroeconomic cooperation, promoting innovation, robust and sustainable trade and investment growth.
The Presidency of BRICS is for a year and is transferable from one country to the other in the grouping. The 2016 chairmanship is held by India when it assumed the Presidency in February 2016. As a result, the Eighth Annual Summit was hosted by India in its beach state of Goa on October 15-16, 2016. In the run up to the Summit, under its chairmanship, a staggering 101 multi-sectoral activities, events and official meetings involving all the five members were completed.
The Eighth BRICS Summit was attended by the leaders of the Federative Republic of Brazil, the Russian Federation, the Republic of India, the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of South Africa. The theme of the Summit was “Building Responsive, Inclusive and Collective Solutions”.
This Summit was held in the midst of major geopolitical events like Brexit, the US elections, the South China Sea dispute, and terror attacks in Uri in Jammu & Kashmir resulting in the boycott and cancellation of the SAARC summit in Islamabad.
As regards the mission to take BRICS to the people, it is noteworthy that a total of 101 events/meetings/activities involving all five members were completed during India’s chairmanship. These included commercial arbitration, agriculture, exchanges among parliamentarians, young scientists and diplomats, football tournaments and film festivals, among others, organised at various places around the country.
The major issues addressed during the Summit can be categorised into three, namely, fight against terrorism, economic development, and protecting the environment.
1. Terrorism: The member-states unanimously recognised the threats posed by terrorism, extremism and radicalisation, as having detrimental consequences upon regional and global peace, stability and economic prosperity, society and humanity as a whole.
India highlighted this issue stringently because of being a victim of the cross-border terrorism very recently in Uri sector of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. In fact, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was firm in underscoring the role of Pakistan as being the mothership of terrorist activities and fuelling them.
The leaders agreed to the urgent need to cooperate to combat this threat, by closely coordinating on tracking the sources of terrorist financing; and targeting the hardware of terrorism, including weapons’ supplies, ammunition, equipment, and training.
2. Economy: Putting the global economy back on track was a key focus of the deliberations in the Summit. The leaders highlighted the necessity to make public investments in long-term infrastructure projects, coordinate macro-economic policy, drive growth, and promote world trade and manufacturing with renewed vigour.
They reiterated the centrality of the WTO in the multilateral trade architecture, while promoting reform of the global financial and economic architecture by expanding the role of emerging and developing economies in the International Monetary Fund, enhancing BRICS’ coordination within the G20, and discussed the way forward on the new areas of co-operation proposed by India, like creation of a BRICS Institute of Economic Research and Analysis.
In the run-up to the BRICS Leaders’ Summit, the first BRICS Economic Forum was held that attempted to bring together finance ministries, central banks, think tanks, bankers, business houses and other key stakeholders of BRICS economies on a common platform for seminal discussions and exchange of views on new and on-going issues of mutual interest among BRICS countries.
3. Environment: The leaders acknowledged the need to strike a balance between economic development and environmental protection and welcomed the early entry into force of the Paris Climate Agreement to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change. They affirmed their commitment to attaining the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in a time-bound fashion.
The regional grouping BIMSTEC or the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation — comprising Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand — was invited by India as part of the BRICS outreach summit.
It provided a unique opportunity for BRICS and BIMSTEC leaders to hold a conversation on prospects for closer partnership and coordination and unlock the immense synergies with huge benefits for the people. The choice of BIMSTEC by India still underscores its commitment to the Act East Policy and the high priority accorded to Southeast Asia.
The hitherto not-so-active BIMSTEC received international attention and leveraging which would be to its own benefit to scale new heights.
Beginning essentially with economic issues of mutual interest, the agenda of BRICS meetings has considerably widened over the years to incorporate topical global issues. The enormous potential of BRICS is imminent from the marathon meetings, events and outreach activities (101 in total) under the present Indian chairmanship reflected the need to nurture the cooperation as a continuing effort.
The very reason for the formation of BRICS was based upon the recognition of the variety of economic challenges that impede economic growth and based its belief on the deepening of strategic partnership amongst them as a way forward. The encouraging trend of trade needs to be strengthened as trade amongst BRICS nations is less than 5 per cent of their total global trade.
The Eighth Summit discussions were detailed and substantive. The leaders exchanged views on important global issues, including terrorism, global economic scenario, and the need to reform the global governance architecture. They reviewed the on-going BRICS cooperation and focused on ideas and possibilities for the expansion of BRICS in the years to come.
The common interest of all the five members led them to focus and highlight intra-BRICS cooperation. For instance, the establishment of the New Development Bank (NDB) would continue to focus on infrastructure, technology and renewable energy sectors, the Railways Research Network was established for better connectivity to ease transportation for the people.
New Delhi played an important role in including BIMSTEC into the BRICS’ fold and is seen as being crucial to India’s efforts to create a peaceful Bay of Bengal community through economic and cultural linkages. An impetus to BIMSTEC through the BRICS outreach programme signals India’s willingness to foster deep and equitable economic and security cooperation among the nations on the Bay of Bengal littoral, very much in tune with PM Modi’s larger SAGAR (Security And Growth for All in the Region) initiative and the Act East Policy.
The Goa Declaration adopted at the end of the Summit laid a comprehensive vision for cooperation and coordination within BRICS and on international issues. BRICS in 2016 thus established itself as a “hyperactive transcontinental grouping” that has successfully established its ever-increasing international influence.
The Goa Summit in essence demonstrated the maturity of BRICS in managing its internal differences and showcasing areas of convergence of interests and common concerns, thus setting the stage for working together on areas of divergence in the years to come.
It reflected the fact that BRICS has become a concrete, increasingly comprehensive, cooperative success, both alone and within the G20, on behalf of all emerging countries.
It was successful as India looks forward to building bridges to new partnerships and finding common resolve and solutions to its own entrenched problems.
It emphasised the importance of further strengthening BRICS solidarity and cooperation based on common interests and key priorities to further strengthen our strategic partnership in the spirit of openness, solidarity, equality, mutual understanding, inclusiveness and mutually beneficial cooperation.
It reiterated the common vision of on-going profound shifts in the world as it transitions to a more just, democratic, and multi-polar international order based on the central role of the United Nations, and respect for international law and that development and security are closely interlinked, mutually reinforcing and key to attaining sustainable peace.
*Simi Mehta is a Ph.D. candidate at the US Studies Division of the School of International Studies, JNU, New Delhi. She can be reached at [email protected]