Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS)
Gathering in South Africa

Historic Summit Forges Unity in Favour of Peaceful Cooperation and Progress

From August 22 to 24, the BRICS group -- comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa -- held its 15th annual heads of state and government summit in Johannesburg, South Africa under the theme: "BRICS and Africa: Partnership for Mutually Accelerated Growth, Sustainable Development and Inclusive Multilateralism." South Africa is the Chair of BRICS for 2023 and the summit was hosted by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. This is the first in-person summit since 2019.

Representing the member countries were President of Brazil Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva, President of China Xi Jinping, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin participated virtually. Also invited were representatives of the African Union, Arab Maghreb Union, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the United Nations. Representatives of 60 other countries were present at the summit. The breadth of international participation was a new and notable feature for this year's summit.

In his welcoming remarks, President Ramaphosa pointed out that BRICS stands for solidarity and progress, for inclusivity and a more just, equitable world order and for sustainable development. He said that during its Chairship of BRICS, advancing the African agenda is a strategic priority for his country as reflected in the theme of this year's summit. He said, "Our objectives are reciprocal trade and investment. We want the goods, products and services from Africa to compete on an equal footing in the global economy. The African Continental Free Trade Area, once fully operational, will unlock the benefits of the continental market and generate mutually beneficial opportunities for both African and BRICS countries."

The main agenda item for this year's summit was the expansion of BRICS, which was successfully accomplished. South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor announced following the first day of meetings that BRICS leaders had adopted a document enshrining guidelines and principles of the association's expansion. "We have agreed on the matter of expansion. We have a document that we've adopted which sets out guidelines and principles, processes for considering countries that wish to become members of BRICS." A proposal by Indian Prime Minister Modi that admission criteria include require that members not be the target of international sanctions was not adopted. This would have ruled out Iran, Venezuela, Cuba and many others.

Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were accepted as members at this summit, effective January 1, 2024. BRICS foreign ministers were also instructed to draw up a further list of likely partner countries, to be presented at the next summit in 2024.

Sixteen other countries have formally applied to join BRICS – Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bolivia, Cuba, Honduras, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Nigeria, Palestine, Senegal, Thailand, Venezuela and Vietnam. Other countries that have expressed interest in joining include Afghanistan, Angola, Comoros, DR Congo, Gabon, Greece, Guinea-Bissau, Mexico, Morocco, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkiye, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.

Much discussion was devoted to economic issues and cooperation, as reflected in the 94-point final declaration of the summit. The final declaration of the BRICS 2023 Summit outlines the outcome of the discussions grouped into six themes: Partnership for Inclusive Multilateralism, Fostering and Environment of Peace and Development, Partnership for Mutually Accelerated Growth, Partnership for Sustainable Development, Deepening People-to-People Exchanges, and Institutional Development.[1]

Strengthening macroeconomic coordination and deepening economic cooperation was reaffirmed and plans were announced to enhance cooperation in agriculture to ensure food security. (BRICS countries account for a third of the world's food production.) The final declaration advocates continued expansion of the use of national currencies in trade and financial transactions between the countries of the association, to lessen dependence on the U.S. dollar. This follows on the work of the 14th BRICS Summit in June 2022, where Russia's proposal to create a new reserve currency based on a basket currencies of its member countries was adopted. The final declaration also rejected barriers to trade, including those imposed by a number of developed countries under the pretext of combating climate change. The Ukraine conflict was mentioned to note with appreciation the "mediation proposals" aimed at a peace settlement of the Ukrainian crisis, including an African peacekeeping mission.

The BRICS members, in their final declaration, reaffirmed their commitment to Multilateralism and international law with the UN seen as a cornerstone of the system of international relations. At the same time they called for reform of the UN, with wider representation of the developing countries in particular in the Security Council, and that World Trade Organization and Bretton Woods financial institutions, including the International Monetary Fund, should also all be reformed to better reflect the interests of the nations and peoples of the world. The BRICS Summit also committed to a balanced approach aimed at strengthening and integrating the voice of those countries that make up the so-called Global South into the G20 agenda during the Indian presidency in 2023 and the Brazilian and South African presidencies in 2024 and 2025.

On the final day of the summit, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres "echoed BRICS' longstanding calls for reforms of the UN Security Council, International Monetary Fund and World Bank," Reuters reported. Guterres said, "Today's global governance structures reflect yesterday's world. For multilateral institutions to remain truly universal, they must reform to reflect today's power and economic realities."

Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, in his capacity as rotating president of the G77+China, addressed the summit on its final day. He referred to BRICS as "an integration mechanism that opens hopes for the strengthening of multilateralism, which today is as urgent as it is essential for the very destiny of Humanity." He went on:

"I attend this dialogue with the enormous responsibility that it represents for Cuba to chair the Group of 77 and China, the broadest and most diverse grouping of developing nations." We are 134 countries, he recalled, two thirds of the members of the UN, where almost 80 percent of the planet's population lives, facing the colossal challenges of an increasingly unequal world, where exclusion and poverty have multiplied after two years of pandemic, followed by dramatic conflicts. The G77+China and BRICS, said Díaz-Canel, together have the responsibility and the possibility to act for a change in the current unjust world order. 'It is not an option; it is the only alternative," he stressed.

The Cuban president recalled how the real transformation of the current international financial architecture, which he described as deeply unjust, anachronistic and dysfunctional, is a historical demand of both the G77+China and BRICS. He stressed that the New Development Bank created by BRICS can and should become an alternative to the current financial institutions, which have imposed for almost a century, draconian recipes to profit from the reserves of the Global South and reproduce their schemes of subjugation and domination. The extension of this mechanism based on broad-based foreign currency reserves, can guarantee certainty and stability to the Global South and would contribute to alleviate the imbalances of the current monetary system. The establishment of mutual lines of credit in local currencies by the banks of the BRICS nations and the possibility of creating a single currency for their operations, he added, are also initiatives that could be applied in relations with other developing countries. This could reduce the abusive monopoly of the U.S. dollar as the global reserve currency, which reinforces and guarantees a hegemony harmful to the rest of the world, Díaz-Canel stressed.

Regarding science and technology, he called for effective coordination between the BRICS and the G77+China, to safeguard the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities in the implementation of the Framework Convention and the Paris Agreement and for G77+China and the BRICS to break the monopoly by a club of countries that control most of the patents, technologies, research centers, and drain the talent from our countries. On this issue, he said, Cuba has called for a Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Group of 77 and China on science, technology and innovation as a premise for development, to be held next September in Havana.

Díaz-Canel concluded: "We firmly believe in the power of unity in diversity and that it is time to act together in defense of historic grievances that, because they have not been addressed in time, have multiplied the problems facing our nations today. To move towards a more just and sustainable future, the time for collective action is not tomorrow. It is now."

President Ramaphosa addressed the outcomes of the summit in his remarks that closed the event. He stated that leading up to the Summit, there was a wide-ranging BRICS business program aimed at attracting investment, promoting collaboration and showcasing opportunities within South Africa, Africa and BRICS countries. "We welcome the clear vision of Ms. Dilma Rousseff as the President of the New Development Bank on the role that the Bank should play in support of infrastructure and sustainable development in Africa and the Global South. We celebrated the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the BRICS Business Council and welcomed the self-review by the Council and the subsequent recommendations made to Leaders," he said. "We addressed our expectations for the BRICS economic partnership to generate tangible benefits for our communities and deliver viable solutions for common challenges faced by the Global South. We shared our vision of BRICS as a champion of the needs and concerns of the peoples of the Global South. These include the need for beneficial economic growth, sustainable development and reform of multilateral systems. We reiterate our commitment to inclusive multilateralism and upholding international law, including the purposes and principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter."

Ramaphosa said that BRICS recognizes that there is global momentum for the use of local currencies, alternative financial arrangements and alternative payment systems and is ready to explore opportunities for improving the stability, reliability and fairness of the global financial architecture. The summit, he said, agreed to task the BRICS Finance Ministers and/or Central Bank Governors, as appropriate, to consider the issue of local currencies, payment instruments and platforms and report back to the BRICS leaders by the next summit.

Regarding the expansion of BRICS, Ramaphosa said, "BRICS itself is a diverse group of nations. It is an equal partnership of countries that have differing views but have a shared vision for a better world."

The Chair of the BRICS passes to Russia in 2024 and the next BRICS Summit will be held in the city of Kazan, Russia.

This article was published in
Volume 53 Number 9 - September 2023

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