Economy to be main topic at BRICS meet

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during their meeting on the sideline of the 11th edition of the BRICS Summit, in Brasilia, Brazil.   | Photo Credit: AP

In April 2010, Brazil’s then president Lula da Silva hosted the second summit of BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) leaders here. At that meeting, where South Africa was invited as a guest, the leaders agreed to enhance “intra-BRIC cooperation” to strengthen relations on different levels of government and civil society. That April, academics and policy analysts from the four countries met for the first time, and the BRIC Business Forum was born. The meeting, driven by the Lula government, achieved a key reform at the International Monitory Fund: an increase in the developing countries’ voting power from 39% to 45%. It was a turning point for BRICS.

As Brasilia gets ready to become the first city to host its second BRICS summit, Brazil, under President Jair Bolsonaro, appears to be the weakest link in the grouping. In 10 months of his presidency, Mr. Bolsonaro has attacked multilateralism and shown personal loyalty to the Trump administration. On the eve of the BRICS summit, Brazilian senate’s Foreign Relations and National Defence Commission approved a pact with the United States that will allow Americans to launch rockets from its space base — a sign of deepening strategic ties between the two countries.

President Vladimir Putin of Russia, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, President Xi Jinping of China and President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa landed here on Wednesday morning for the two-day summit. With more than 10,000 armed troops patrolling the city and three rings of security, including snipers, fighter jets and guided missiles, 

The five leaders are expected to discuss economic, financial and cultural cooperation and participate in the BRICS Business Forum, meet the BRICS Business Council and the talk about the management of the New Development Bank.

According to diplomats of different member countries, there is a wide agreement on the official agenda of the plenary session of the summit, to be held behind closed doors, which will revolve around “economic growth for an innovative future” and focus on “cooperation on digital economy” and “fight against transnational crime”. But, say the diplomats, the bilateral meetings between the leaders may pose some challenges. On the issue of Bolivia, where its elected president Evo Morales was forced out of power by the Army Generals, Mr. Putin is likely to raise the issue with Mr. Bolsonaro, whose government has backed the Bolivian opposition. Calling it a coup, Mr. Putin has blamed the Bolivian opposition for the violent situation and warned Brazil and the U.S. against interference in the South American country. With Brazil looking at Russia as a major market for its meat exports, Mr. Bolsonaro will face an awkward situation on Bolivia.

5G technology

According to sources here, Mr. Bolsonaro has been “advised” against mentioning Bolivia in his address at the summit so as not to “annoy” Russia and China, which too has moderately criticised the developments in Brazil’s neighbour. But it is not just Bolivia but U.S. President Donald Trump too would be casting a shadow over the meetings. At their bilateral meeting, Mr. Xi is likely to raise the issue of 5G technology with Mr. Bolsonaro. With Mr. Trump running a campaign against the Chinese firm Huawei and China showing keen interest in building Brazil’s 5G network, Mr. Bolsonaro may find it hard to antagonise China, which is Brazil’s biggest trading partner and major driving force in BRICS.

While Bolivia and Mr. Trump may not affect Mr. Bolsonaro’s dialogue with Mr. Modi, Brazil may push India for opening its market for agricultural and meat products. According to sources in Itamaraty, the Brazilian Foreign Ministry, Brazil’s decision to allow visa-free travel to Indian tourists and businesspersons may also figure prominently in the meeting at which Mr. Modi is expected to invite Mr. Bolsonaro as the chief guest at the Republic Day parade in January 2020.

 “Nothing has been finalised as yet, but an announcement can be expected soon,” said an Itamaraty official.

But it is mainly the economy that will be on the mind of the BRICS leaders when they meet here over two days. On Monday, the BRICS Trade Ministers noted increasing uncertainty and loss of momentum in the world economy. “In this context, we recognise the important role of the BRICS as a cooperation platform that can improve trade and investment opportunities,” said a joint statement following the meeting.With Brazil vacillating between the BRICS and a Trump-run Washington, the cooperation faces an additional challenge.

(Shobhan Saxena is a journalist based in Sao Paulo, Brazil)

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Printable version | Oct 17, 2021 6:16:12 AM |

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