BRICS moves apace even virtually

November 19, 2020 11:25 AM

As India takes on the mantle of the BRICS for the third time it will have to confront various policy choices. Execution and driving of the CT strategy would give it an edge to carry it forward both among the BRICS and the UN as India joins the UNSC as a non-permanent member.

On the economic front the BRICS have a functional agenda and aiming to expand the intra-BRICS trade and investments even more.

By Ambassador Anil Trigunayat

On 17 November, the 12th Annual BRICS Summit under the Russian Presidency was held on a virtual platform necessitated by the global pandemic after the initial postponement in July this year for the same reason. The meeting was chaired by President Vladimir Putin and attended by PM Modi, President Jai Bolsonaro, President Xi Jinping and President Ramphosa. No doubt it was challenging for the Russian Presidency in 2020 due to extensive Covid outbreak and consequent global economic downturn that has impacted the BRICS member countries rather significantly. Russia, Brazil and India are among the top five most infected countries whereas China has been discredited for its origins and handling of the virus. The complication for Russia may have been compounded due to the ongoing border conflict between India and China and India’s growing profile in the QUAD and Indo-Pacific. But being a friend of both, Moscow waded it rather adroitly. India on its part is moving along multiple alignments and congruences across divergent groups and mechanisms and playing its regional and global role responsibly.

Likewise, while all the economies have suffered immensely China is bouncing back on a positive trajectory. As such the BRICS comprises of nearly 42% of the global population and 23% of global GDP hence the negative impact of the pandemic is sure to be felt even more. Russia, China and India are also developing their own Covid-Vaccines, but India is a major hub of vaccines hence figures prominently in all manufacturing calculations. Even President Xi mentioned in his address that China would like to work closely with India for the vaccine. Russia has already tied up to produce its Sputnik V vaccine in India. India on its part has excelled in Medical or Covid Diplomacy by providing medicines and other assistance to over 150 countries and will be an important junction for the production, use and dissemination of the Covid Vaccine in near future. President Bolsonaro called Indian assistance as “ Sanjeevani”- the lifesaver.

President Putin and Russia must be credited with a successful Summit and presidency of the BRICS especially during these unprecedented times. More than 20 ministerial meetings and 130 events across the whole collaborative and futuristic spectrum were held virtually. The Summit under the theme “ BRICS Partnership for Global Stability, Shared Security and Innovative Growth” clearly reflected the global and group challenges and tried to steer a path towards identifying and realising the issues and objectives and how to cope up with them through intra-BRICS mechanisms. Eventually, the leaders approved the three important agreements at the Summit. These include the Moscow Declaration; the BRICS Anti-Terrorism Strategy and the BRICS updated strategy for the economic partnership until 2025. The baton passed on to India which will chair the BRICS during 2021. Sherpas will have to shepherd the decisions by the leaders in a more innovative and proactive manner.

PM Modi in his interventions clearly underscored the need for greater multilateralism and reforms in the UN, IMF, WHO and the WTO. He also spoke of accountability of the countries harbouring and sponsoring the terrorists and cross border terrorism. While expressing satisfaction at the Counter-Terrorism Strategy being adopted, he hoped that the NSAs of the BRICS would be able to develop an actionable “Plan of Action” to take the strategy to its logical end. PM Modi even at the UN and other international fora has been one of the most powerful protagonists who asked the world to first define terrorism to deal with this scourge. India’s proposal for a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) has begun to find some traction now. It has been stunted by divergent and subjective approaches of various countries some of whom do justify terrorism for political ends. Some others have even kept saving the international terrorists through their technical holds at the UN terrorism committee. India has also been propagating for a Global Conference on Terrorism (GCT). However, the BRICS CT Strategy could be useful as a reference at the other multilateral fora and the UN. But for it to succeed genuine adherence to the principles, objectives and credible action over geopolitical expediency would be needed.

On the economic front the BRICS have a functional agenda and aiming to expand the intra-BRICS trade and investments even more. As such the BRICS countries account for nearly 22% of global trade in goods. BRICS National Development Bank (NDB) with a corpus of $50 billion is providing an alternate model to the Bretton Woods Institutions. It has extended assistance for 60 projects amounting to $ 20 bn. To combat Covid 19 not only has it extended $ 10 bn in assistance but has also issued Covid bonds with five years maturity. PM Modi also urged the BRICS Business Council to work with (NDB) to enhance the intragroup trade to over $ 500 bn which currently does not extend beyond 15% of the total. Women’s Business Alliance and Shepreneurs are expected to play a much greater and important role in the years to come. Likewise, Youth Business Incubators and future Skills Challenge would supplement these efforts. Inter-Bank cooperation mechanism has been further strengthened.NDB will be opening its Eurasia office in Moscow in 2021 and will hopefully open another one in India soon.

As India takes on the mantle of the BRICS for the third time it will have to confront various policy choices. Execution and driving of the CT strategy would give it an edge to carry it forward both among the BRICS and the UN as India joins the UNSC as a non-permanent member. Greater focus on a comprehensive approach to fighting terrorism with accountability of the sponsors and foreign terrorists and Jihadi social media groups, financing and narco-trafficking, countering radicalisation, cybersecurity, capacity building and intelligence and technology sharing on a real-time basis could be the priority. In addition, the creation of a new mechanism for countering epidemiological threats, early warning systems and bio-safety may need greater attention as BRICS emerges from the adverse impact of Covid 19. Perhaps India could also consider focusing on a collaborative mechanism regarding Africa outreach.

Of course, PM Modi has righty proposed to commission a report to evaluate various decisions and their implementations over BRICS 15 years journey across the key objectives including trade, technology, health, energy and security as well as combined efforts and approach to multilateralism and reforms of multilateral institutions.

(The author is Distinguished Fellow Vivekananda International Foundation. Views are personal.)

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