By P.I. Gomes
*The writer is a former Secretary-General of the Organisation of African, Caribbean & Pacific States (OACPS).
PORT OF SPAIN, Tobago. 22 September 2023 (IDN) — When the XVth Summit of the BRICS—Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa—concluded with the Johannesburg II Declaration, it agreed that six new members would join the group come January 2024.
The addition of the new members—Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates—gives rise to BRICS-Plus. This transregional bloc of emerging and developing economies presents itself as a formidable political gathering able and assertive with agency and articulation to pursue the goals and aspirations of the Global South.
An enlargement of the five core BRICS reflects a maturing manifestation of self-determination and assertive self-confidence that regard themselves as developing countries preparing to challenge Western industrialised powers led by the USA, Europe and linked as the Group of 7 (G7).
The latter, in economic and commercial terms, even if not in military power, will no doubt be watching and planning astutely how to reckon with the BRICS-Plus. For the simple reason that come January 2024, the BRICS-Plus will account for almost 30% of world GDP, with the share of global trade steadily increasing to 36% of the world’s total.
More pertinent for Europe and the US to ponder, with the inclusion of Saudi Arabia, Iran and UAE, BRICS-Plus will control 43% of global oil production. A threat to the voraciously consuming, vehicle-obsessed US public that President Biden will not wish to face in the 2024 election year.
In addition, a bloc accounting for 46% of the world population and energy secure with China’s advancing military and naval strength, is one that can reasonably be expected to be a cause for serious concern to Washington and allies across Europe and the G7 nations.
For the latter, the array of forces in the Global South underlies a world increasingly uneasy with the growing challenge to the established hegemonic control by the US, Europe, and G7 countries. This is even more pronounced, given the crisis facing market capitalism characterized by high inflation, fluctuating costs of energy, and the sluggish performance of Germany and the UK, as Europe’s leading economies.
But then, in offering to calm such unease, the BRICS in their Johannesburg II Declaration explicitly declared that they are not “anti-western”. It is useful to look more closely at that Declaration.
Johannesburg II Declaration
The 26-page outcome document of the XV BRICS Summit in South Africa is as striking in the range of global issues as it deserves critical scrutiny. But while probing the agency and perspectives of strident solidarity across the Global South, certain contradictions, or irony, appear when considering countries on whose behalf glowing pronouncements are made on the United Nations (UN) Charter.
For instance, Russia is protected against a sharp condemnation in aggression against Ukraine, as was carried by majority vote in two resolutions of the UN General Assembly. However, as a BRICS member state, Russia is among “We” [who] “reiterate our commitment to upholding international law, including the purposes and principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations (UN) as its indispensable cornerstone…” para.#3 Johannesburg II Declaration, 23 August 2023. (emphasis mine).
Be that as it may, there is much of significance in the Declaration that places a positive focus on the structured solidarity and catalytic force the BRICS-Plus can play in reshaping a more balanced global order to displace US, Western dominance in today’s unsettling international arena. This is perhaps the underlying hope and adamant appeal of the Jo’burg Declaration. The theme was BRICS and Africa: Partnership for Mutually Accelerated Growth, Sustainable Development and Inclusive Multilateralism.
Noteworthy in the Preamble of the Declaration is the “reaffirmed commitment to BRICS’ spirit of mutual respect and understanding, sovereign equality, solidarity, democracy, openness, inclusiveness, strengthened collaboration and consensus”. These values, enshrined in the BRICS’ spirit, are meant to inform “the framework of mutually beneficial cooperation under three pillars of political and security, economic and financial, and cultural and people-to-people cooperation”.
As a common thread throughout the document, the BRICS states their “strategic partnership” is grounded in promoting peace, a more representative, fairer international order, a reinvigorated and reformed multilateral system, sustainable development, and inclusive growth.”
On this basis, the elaboration of the thinking, commitments, and hopes to which the BRICS subscribe are treated under six thematic areas that address Inclusive Multilateralism, Fostering an Environment of Peace and Development, Partnerships for Mutually Accelerated Growth; Partnership for Sustainable Development, Deepening People-to-People Exchanges and Institutional Development.
In the content and substance of these thematic areas, commitments are reiterated as well as concerns expressed, such as the “use of unilateral coercive measures, which are incompatible with the principles of the Charter of the UN and produce negative effects notably in the developing world.” (Para# 4). Along with the disapproval of “unilateral coercive measures”, BRICS called for greater representation of Emerging Markets and Developing Countries (EMDCs) in international organisations and multilateral fora in which they play an important role.
Linked to this is a call for increasing the role and share of women from EMDC at different levels of responsibility in the international organisations.
Beyond issues of gender and youth, the Declaration reiterated the need for all countries to cooperate in promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms under principles of equality and mutual respect. At a practical level, the BRICS declared their agreement “to continue to treat all human rights, including the right to development in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing and with the same emphasis” (para#6).
Regarding the importance of institutional change and development, an explicit call is made for “comprehensive reform of the UN, including its Security Council, making it more democratic, representative, effective and efficient, and to increase the representation of developing countries in the Council’s membership.”
No doubt this has been previously and repeatedly stated by such organisations as the African Union and Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS), as well as by regional groupings in the UN system from Latin America and the Caribbean (GRULAC). So too has been the call for India, Brazil, Nigeria or/and South Africa. But no device or agreed criteria have been accepted on how an enlarged UN Security Council will be composed and with what if any veto powers, as now enjoyed by the Permanent Five of China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Perhaps the debate will reach closer to a positive outcome as this call by the BRICS is supported by the G20 Summit in India, 9-10 September 2023 and the G77 Summit in Havana, all imminent to UNGA 78 from 18—22 September 2023.
The BRICS XV Summit, consistent with its theme—BRICS & Africa promoted operationalization of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and, through BRICS cooperation, offers “opportunities for the continent to transition away from the historical role as a commodity exporter toward higher productivity value addition”.
The Declaration also supported including the African Union (AU) as a member of the G20, a BRICS Payment Task Force on the G20 Roadmap on Cross-border Payments in BRICS countries, thereby enabling anticipated synergies with the G20 Summit in New Delhi.
Far from a rumored “de-dollarisation” against the US dollar reserve currency, BRICS tasked Finance Ministers to consider the issue of local currencies, payment instruments, and platforms while recognizing the key role of the New Development Bank, not to “counter, challenge or rival” but be an important member of global MDB family, given its unique status as an institution created by EMDCs for EMDCs.” (para.#46).
The platform of the BRICS XV Summit was undoubtedly a powerful pivot to place at centre stage concerns and aspirations for the Global South as a formidable catalyst in advocating inclusive multilateralism.
The event as a precursor to the New Delhi G20 Summit, seemed also to contain quiet unease and an unresolved query between the China and India giants of the Asia-Pacific arena who would wear the crown of captaincy of the Global South in the ensuing years to navigate the turbulent decades of a new global order. The Asian Century in the making! [IDN-InDepthNews]
Photo: (from left) President of Brazil Lula da Silva, President of China Xi Jinping, President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, and Foreign Minister of Russia Sergey Lavrov, mounted on the flags of five countries, at Johannesburg, in South Africa on 22 August 2023. Sources: PIB of India and BRICS XV.
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