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From Xiamen to Johannesburg: The Role of the BRICS in Global Governance

Alissa Wang, Chair, Summit Studies
BRICS Research Group
March 2, 2018

On Monday, February 26, 2018, the BRICS Research Group and the Contemporary Asian Studies Student Union (CASSU) jointly hosted a panel discussion with the Consuls General of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa to Toronto. This event provided an opportunity for all five Consuls General to discuss their opinions on BRICS cooperation with each other and with the audience. Here are a few themes that stood out from their remarks.

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A Decade of BRICS Achievements

The year 2017 marks the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the BRICS. BRICS cooperation has since reflected the rise of developing countries since the end of the Cold War. In the past ten years of BRICS cooperation, this informal institution has become one of the most important platforms for the world's largest emerging economies. The Consuls General highlighted several key achievements at past BRICS meetings and summits.

At a time when the world was struggling to come to terms with the new geopolitical reality of a multipolar world, Russia took the initiative to vocalize what had been on the minds of the BRIC(S) countries. BRIC(S) leaders held their first ministerial meeting in 2006 on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. This meeting addressed the widespread demand for reassessment of the diverse, multipolar world, and recognized that emerging countries stand for their own vision. This meeting led to the first summit hosted by Russia in Yekaterinburg in 2009, which established the basic goals of the BRICS platform as a consistent, active and transparent dialogue characterized by openness, pragmatism, solidarity and a non-bloc, non-confrontational character. The BRICS group mattered to global governance right from its inception by virtue of its sheer size and gravity. Continued duress on the world stage by developed economies further fuelled the engine of BRICS cooperation.

In 2012 came the watershed summit in the history of BRICS cooperation, held in New Delhi, India. This summit marked the beginning considerations for one of the most important internal institutions of BRICS cooperation to this day: the New Development Bank (NDB). The next few years witnessed BRICS expansion and "explosion." The BRICS agenda expanded beyond economic cooperation and into other important issue areas including climate change, political issues, cultural cooperation, health, tourism, education, finance and many more.

The 2017 Xiamen Summit was the latest milestone of BRICS cooperation. The five key terms of the summit were innovation, opening up, development, connectivity and reform. This summit built on progress in the NDB and the Contingency Reserve Agreement, further pushed reforms of existing international financial institutions, and built on the achievements of the G20 summit hosted by China in Hangzhou and China's Belt and Road initiative for infrastructure investment. Overall, the last decade saw a steady increase in the depth and breath of BRICS cooperation, which consolidated and strengthened the role of BRICS as a unique and important global governance institution. 

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Equality and Inclusiveness as Unique Features of BRICS Cooperation

An important theme addressed by the Consuls General was the unique features that make the role of the BRICS stand out in the network of global governance institutions. Two of these features are particularly important in the BRICS framework — the first being equal partnership. The BRICS is a true manifestation of equality in global governance, network diplomacy, and creative and respectful consensus building based on the norms of the international community. The idea of equal partnership is most salient in the NDB, where the BRICS members have each made equal contributions and hold equal shares.

The second is inclusiveness among the BRICS states. This element is most pronounced in the BRICS Plus mechanism. It is clear the none of the BRICS members wish to become isolated "islands of prosperity" within their respective regions. Thus, inclusivity is a central feature of the BRICS institution, as shown in the outreach efforts of BRICS towards emerging economies in regions like Southeast Asia and Africa.

These two central features are also outlined and embedded in the non-confrontational and non-bloc nature of the BRICS institution. The Consuls General stressed that BRICS is not in competition with any other international organizations, as there is neither time nor value to gain ground from other institutions. Instead, thr BRICS works to reform existing international institutions and agendas that should be based on and reflect the reality of the status quo. This includes giving developing countries and emerging economies a greater voice and the opportunity to set the agenda for themselves, rather than having other states dictate and impose rules on the developing world. In other words, the goal o fthe BRICS is to make international cooperation more inclusive as a whole, and to instill greater equality between developed and developing countries in global governance.

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Looking Ahead: Johannesburg 2018

What lies ahead in 2018, as BRICS prepares for its 10th summit chaired by South Africa in Johannesburg? There are certainly a lot of past achievements to build on and important values to safeguard, but there are also new proposals for the future.

It is expected that there will be a strong degree of continuity from the Xiamen Summit, building on its themes of innovation, opening up, development, connectivity and reform. There will be continued momentum in the expansion of the BRICS into critical issue areas of global governance. Priority areas of cooperation for the next summit are set in economic, political, and cultural spheres. More specifically, with South Africa's 2018 presidency, BRICS outreach is expected to focus on the African region. The Johannesburg Summit will thus show the world how the BRICS Plus mechanism plays out in Africa, as BRICS members engage in enhanced dialogue with African leaders. There are also proposals from BRICS members for a stronger internal mechanism, in order to provide the BRICS with more institutional support.

In conclusion, this panel discussion provided an opportunity for the five BRICS Consuls General to be present at the same table, discussing their countries' respective views on BRICS cooperation. Their remarks highlighted historical, normative and forward-looking aspects of the BRICS institution, as audience members learned about the BRICS's past achievements, unique institutional features and prospects for the upcoming summit. There is certainly much to look forward to under the leadership of the South African presidency, as the BRICS heads into its second decade of cooperation.

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