The alliance of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, collectively known as BRICS, are having its eighth summit in India this weekend with much at stake. While the bloc is still cohesive, its individual member countries are experiencing a range of internal tensions. The Conversation Africa business and economy editor Sibonelo Radebe asked Sanusha Naidu what it means for the state of BRICS.
What in your view is the state of BRICS?
The bloc’s cohesiveness is still intact as a grouping. But at the individual country level there are varying degrees of political and economic fragmentation. Brazil and South Africa are showing deep signs of legitimacy crises in terms of tensions within their governance structures, which is spilling over into violent protests around socioeconomic inequality and political frustrations.
China is re-calibrating its economy by shifting towards a more embedded domestic driven consumption pattern, while Russia is trying to re-balance its geo-strategic position outside of Europe in the Eurasian region. India is perhaps the one BRICS member that seems to be on a better domestic economic footing, despite its tensions with Pakistan, which appears to be intensifying with both Moscow and Beijing seeking to strengthen ties with Islamabad.
What are the key issues that are likely to dominate proceedings?
The big ticket issue for the summit will be enhancing economic cooperation. This follows logically from the creation and institutionalisation of the BRICS Development Bank. India as the incoming chair of the BRICS has shown clear emphasis that under its presidency economic cooperation is the primary priority. To date the Narendra Modi administration has hosted the first ever trade fair, sought to push for a Commercial Arbitration Centre for BRICS corporates, talk of initiating an intra-BRICS free trade area, and the prospects of creating a BRICS rating agency.
It is likely that most of the key priorities areas in the 8th BRICS Action Plan and Declaration will be focused on consolidating economic cooperation within the group. This will be aimed at enhancing the structural conditions the BRICS’ seek to shape as the global financial architecture and complementing the New Development Bank.
There has been some shift in the political character of some member countries (India and Brazil). Is this a significant factor in the life of BRICS?
Domestic political shifts cannot be separated from how these will impact on a country’s engagements and relationship in global fora or intergovernmental agencies. In the case of Brazil, it will be useful to keep a watching brief on how the new government of Michel Temer will approach its engagement in the BRICS. Will it be a continuation from the Rousseff government? Or will Temer seek to put a different stamp of engagement with the BRICS.
It was clear under Dilma Rousseff that BRICS was favoured over IBSA. Indications are that the Temer Presidency will remain committed to BRICS as it relates to resource mobilisation, and broader attempts for reforming the global multilateral system. But it could also be that of all the BRICS Temer will also be looking to strengthening bilateral partnerships with countries like China and India aimed at firming up economic opportunities for domestic growth priorities.
Of all the BRICS, India does seem to be the one member that has remained relatively stable on both the political and economic fronts. The Modi government has shown direction in wanting to be more than just a member of the BRICS but also a knowledge producer of ideas and initiator of frameworks. In the run-up to and under its presidency of the 8th BRICS Summit, New Delhi has demonstrated to be very active in pushing for strategic global governance structures (like those mentioned above) under the BRICS identity.
What lies ahead for BRICS?
In a broader sense the future of the BRICS will continue to be managed as being the platform to push for more global governance structures that enables for a levelling of the playing field at the international system. It would be focused on what has been set up and improving such structures with complimentary institutions.
The challenge as the BRICS seeks to continue in providing an alternative set of global governance institutions is trying to ensure that such institutions can compete on the global scale. There is also the risk of having to contend with institutions that exist within member states of the BRICS such as a proposed Commercial Arbitration Centre versus the BRICS Dispute Resolution Centre based in Shanghai.
As long as the top three BRICS (Russia, India and China) remain solid and committed, BRICS will continue. It is this sub-grouping of RIC, which seems to be holding the BRICS’ centre. India for its own strategic interests would not want to see an emboldened Russia or China become too dominant in the BRICS
Is the current BRICS membership sufficient to secure the future of this bloc?
For now the BRICS membership is manageable. While there has been talk of expansion, bringing more members may pose certain complications to how the BRICS would seek to develop the criteria of the governance institutions it has initiated or proposing.
There have been indications from Russia that expansion of the BRICS is a possibility at a later stage.
But expanding membership also comes with its own potential risks especially if it is seen as trying to stack the BRICS with actors that may show disproportionate support for one member over another. This is something that a country like India will guard against if Pakistan is supported to join the BRICS.