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Will Osaka's BRICS Summit Spur the G20 Toward Success?

Angela Min Yi Hou, BRICS and G20 Research Groups
June 27, 2019

On 28 June 2019, BRICS leaders will meet on the sidelines of the G20 Osaka summit in Japan. As the upcoming BRICS host, Brazil will facilitate an informal dialogue alongside heads of state from Russia, India, China and South Africa. This coalition of emerging economies will gather tomorrow morning before the G20 summit's main program begins. As a group of rising powers, BRICS positions itself as a champion of increasing representation for the "developing world." Tomorrow's meeting, taking place at a critical juncture and at a divided Osaka summit, serves as an opportunity to strengthen policy coordination among BRICS members, striving to speak as a unified voice in the Osaka summit´s upcoming negotiations.

According to the Foreign Ministry of Brazil, this BRICS meeting will focus on financial and economic issues rather than political challenges. Brazil's focus on issues such as infrastructural development, agriculture, and global trade strongly reflects its national priorities and the shared interests of BRICS members. The meeting is also set to address topics pertaining to multilateral investment and development banks as well as digital transformation, both of which correspond with the Japanese host's G20 summit themes. In the issue area of health, BRICS members also share a unique perspective on healthcare access and financing, especially after the BRICS Johannesburg summit's breakthrough in collaborative vaccine research and previous summit actions to tackle anti-microbial resistance (AMR).

BRICS plays a critical role in enhancing the work of the G20 and coordinating domestic policies between some of the world´s fastest growing economies. BRICS significantly propels the development agenda in G20 summitry, and sometimes even seeks to uphold multilateralism where its traditional proponents have failed to do so. BRICS summit outcome documents also have a track record of reaffirming the importance of plurilateral institutions in the liberal international order - namely the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, and the United Nations.[5] For example, on the margins of last year's G20 Buenos Aires summit, the BRICS' joint media statement affirmed that the "spirit and rules of the WTO run counter to unilateral and protectionist measures." This year, the BRICS leaders are expected to continue this collective language in support of free trade and multilateralism despite American opposition to anti-protectionist communique language.

However, BRICS countries are also among the voices of opposition to certain agenda items currently under the Osaka summit´s consideration, sharply contrasting the stance of its Western counterparts. For instance, India and South Africa are leading proponents of transnational digital taxation, expressing a desire to "directly tax data export for the revenue required for development."[6] BRICS cooperation is further challenged by domestic political factors. New to BRICS summitry, newly-elected President Bolsonaro's populist tone and the nationalist leadership of several other BRICS leaders have drawn particular attention to this cluster of growing markets. Concerns about BRICS revisionism and Brazil´s apparent lack of interest in global governance leadership have led many to question the efficacy of this consortium.

However, it is crucial to understand that the BRICS coalition is united by cross-cutting concerns regarding the international system. In contrast to institutions such as the G7/8, BRICS members are not united by a strong sense of shared identity or democratic values. In turn, issue-based partnerships among a diverse membership are the true drivers of consensus-building in the BRICS, specifically on the basis of shared interests and domestic priorities. Therefore, one can expect the informal meeting tomorrow to align BRICS participation in this year's G20 summit with certain components of the Japanese host´s priorities, especially those that coincide with the respective state development agendas of BRICS members.

In conclusion, the BRICS informal meeting tomorrow morning will add to the G20's progress on macroeconomic coordination and the advancement of "positive rights," which is political science language for socio-economic empowerment through the provision of public goods and services. One can remain optimistic about BRICS' constructive contribution to consensus-building in the G20 writ large, especially on the sidelines of what is bound to be a turbulent summit this week.

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Angela Min Yi Hou
Angela Min Yi Hou is the editor of the BRICS Research Group, incoming co-chair of summit studies with the G7 Research Group and a compliance director with the G20 Research Group. She is starting graduate studies at the Geneva Institute of International and Development Studies. She was a member of the field teams at the G20 summit in Hamburg in Germany in 2017, the G7 summit in Charlevoix in Canada in 2018, and the (upcoming) BRICS summit in Johannesburg in South Africa in 2018.

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