BRICS leaders presented a united front at the Johannesburg summit, promising to deliberate on the bloc’s expansion, push for a common currency and reform global governance systems in favour of the Global South.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Brazilian leader Lula da Silva vowed to tackle global challenges together without forcing members to choose between BRICS and Western political and economic blocs such as the Group of Seven (G7).
The three-day summit began at the Sandton Convention Centre on Tuesday amid expectations in the Global South for the admission of more members, and the introduction of a BRICS currency to replace the US dollar as a preeminent global currency reserve.
More than 50 heads of state and dozens of business representatives, including African leaders, are attending the 15th BRICS Summit at Ramaphosa’s invitation. Former Brazilian leader Dilma Rousseff, the National Development Bank (NDB) president, is among the dignitaries.
If the leaders agree on expansion, the new BRICS Plus could see more than 20 developing nations joining the bloc and members trading between and among themselves in their national currencies, thus diminishing the status of the US dollar and reducing its value.
Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Argentina, Malaysia, Algeria, Nigeria and Zimbabwe are among the countries which applied or expressed interest in joining the group of major developing states.
Should the BRICS top brass decide to add more members, the move would tilt the balance of forces on the international stage in favour of the developing nations and counterbalance the West’s domination of geopolitics and global economic systems since the end of the Second World War in 1945.
The current political and economic governance systems, including the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are controlled by America and its Western allies.
This is despite BRICS nations accounting for more than 30 percent of the global GDP and more than 40 percent of the global population.
However, a new BRICS currency is only expected within 10 years because of the complexity involved in introducing a common currency among various nations with different gross domestic product (GDP) sizes, according to diplomatic sources.
In his opening address, Ramaphosa implored his BRICS counterparts to seize the moment and make the bloc a force reckoned with in global politics.
“The type of developmental agenda that the five countries that are members of BRICS have embraced, right from the onset, require a fundamental reform of the global financial institutions so that they can be more agile and responsive to the challenges facing developing economies,” said Ramaphosa, adding the NDB was leading the charge in funding development projects without any conditions.
“The BRICS family is growing in its importance, in its stature, also in its influence in the world. And we will be taking into account various desires of countries to be part of BRICS. So we hope to take into account a report of your discussions here as well as we consider the way forward for BRICS,” he added.
Moreover, Ramaphosa called on foreign direct investors to Africa and process resources in the continent so that African countries can export finished products rather than raw materials.
Da Silva, Putin, Modi and Xi followed and addressed the summit in that order.
Da Silva praised the BRICS for increasing their share of the global political economy, surpassing the G7, the world’s advanced economies (US, UK, Germany, France, Japan, Canada and Italy), by increasing its global GDP to 32%.
He agreed with Ramaphosa on the need to transform global governance and financial systems, adding that the BRICS bank must play a leading role.
“The New Development Bank must be a global leader in the financing for projects that address the most pressing challenges of our time, by diversifying payment sources of local currencies, and increasing its partner network. The NDP constitutes a strategic platform to promote cooperation between developing countries. Engagement with the African Development Bank would be central to this,” Lula da Silva said.
He reiterated that BRICS must be a force on the international stage and play a leading role in fighting neo-colonialism and promoting a just global order.
Without mentioning America by name, Da Silva swiped at Washington for imposing trade barriers on China and other developing economies to contain and slow their economic growth.
“We cannot accept a new neocolonialism that imposes trade barriers and discriminatory measures that under the guise of protecting the one,” Da Silva said.
In a pre-recorded video message, Putin, attending the summit virtually, urged the conference to focus on pressing challenges such as the post-Covid economic recovery, improving citizens’ well-being, industrial modernisation, development of transport and logistics chains, and equitable technology transfers. It also needed to discuss stock, currency, food and energy volatility.
Putin used the occasion to once more lambaste America for freezing more than 300 billion US dollars of its foreign currency reserves in retaliation for its war in Ukraine, which he said compounded the problem.
“The energy and illegitimate sanctions practice and illegal freezing of assets of sovereign states which essentially amount to trampling upon all the basic norms and rules of free trade,” Putin said.
He praised BRICS member states for forging ahead with their developmental agenda in the face of pressure and threats from the West.
“Above all, our cooperation is based on the principles of equality, partner support and respect for each other’s interests. It is the core of our association’s forward-looking strategic cause. The cause that reflects the aspirations of the larger part of the international community, the so-called global majority,” he added.
Modi, for his part, focused on the world’s economic challenges and India’s role in addressing them. Insisting that BRICS’ role was important, the Indian prime minister urged member states to take advantage of his country’s digital transactions, manufacturing sector, technology and semiconductors.
“We are taking active steps to make India a global manufacturing hub in areas such as solar energy,” Modi said.
“Transparency and mutual trust are very much important.”
In a speech delivered by China’s Minister of Commerce Wang Wentao, Xi said many developing countries made economic strides after “shaking off the yoke of colonialism, perseverance, hard work and human sacrifices”.
“But, some country, obsessed with maintaining its hegemony, has gone out of its way to counter the developing markets and developing countries. Developing countries which develop fast are the targets of containment,” said Xi, in a veiled reference to America.
He warned that the strategy of containing and slowing down the development of other countries would not bear fruit for any country. Xi accused the world’s economic powerhouse of stoking divisions without mentioning the US by name.
“It is precisely because of the differences in history, culture and systems that countries need to …advance together. Deliberately creating divisions with the assertion of democracies versus authoritarianism, liberalism versus autocracy, and always splitting the world in a clash of civilisations …are barriers to exchanges in the new global citizenships,” Xi added.
US President Joe Biden and his predecessor, Donald Trump, have imposed trade restrictions on Chinese technology and the sale of semiconductors alleging national security threats. However, Beijing insisted it is part of a US strategy to contain and block its economic development.
The BRICS summit is expected to end on Thursday.