BRICS Business Council meeting and Business Forum in Brazil. Featured are the four SA chapter BRICS business council members. From left to right: Businesswoman Brigette Radebe, Stavros Nicolaou of Aspen Pharmacare Holdings, Busi Mabuza, chair of the IDC, and Ayanda Ntsaluba of Discovery Holdings.
All eyes were on Brazil this week as right-wing populist President Jair Bolsonaro hosted the 11th BRICS Summit yesterday, under the theme of ‘Economic Growth for an Innovative Future.’ 

Observers watched for schisms between Bolsonaro and the other BRICS leaders given his previous anti-China rhetoric, and preference for closer ties with the US and EU rather than with developing countries of the South. But Bolsonaro has effectively used the opportunity of playing host to the BRICS Summit to boost his international stature and capitalise on the prospects for greater trade and investment with emerging economies. 

The BRICS Business Forum and Business Council have emerged as central pillars of BRICS collaboration. “Since the establishment of the Council, there has been significant growth in trade, finance and investment at an intra-BRICS level. This now needs to take place in a more focused and targeted way, looking specifically to greater synergies and complementarities,” Stavros Nicolaou of the BRICS Business Council said. 

Messages emanating from the other BRICS leaders were clearly critical of US protectionism at a time of slow global growth, and committed themselves to countering unfair trade competition and unilateral sanctions. Chinese President Xi Jinping, whose country is locked in a trade war with the US said, "Protectionist and bullying counter-currents bring shocks to international trade, adding to downward pressure on the world economy."  

While Bolsonaro did not add to the indirect criticism of the US, he has previously stated that “The persistence of protectionist approaches and disloyal economic practices is the source of commercial tension and poses a risk to the stability of international trade rules.” Bolsonaro has developed the view that BRICS plays a key role in finding solutions to international conflicts, and is crucial for the stability and prosperity of the global economy.

President Cyril Ramaphosa emphasized the fact that BRICS represent about 42% of the global population, 23% of GDP, 30% of territory, and 18% of global trade. He expressed confidence that the BRICS countries can overcome the prevalent challenges of slowing investment opportunities, more costly and complex trade, and rising uncertainty in the global economy.  

“In South Africa we play host to Brazilian bus manufacturers, Russian train manufacturers, Indian automotive companies and Chinese machinery producers. And each of the BRICS countries has South African fruit and vegetables on their tables, buildings constructed from South African metals, and factories fitted with South African machinery and electronics,” Ramaphosa told the BRICS Business Forum.   

The BRICS Business Forum and Business Council have emerged as central pillars of BRICS collaboration. The issues dealt with by the Business Council, from the opportunities of the digital economy to the ongoing need to strengthen productive infrastructure, speak to the most pressing challenges and opportunities.  

South Africa remains committed to supportive governance that creates opportunities for inclusive growth. “We are working to achieve this aim by undertaking far-reaching economic reforms aimed at developing an entrepreneurial state that can actively partner with companies,” Ramaphosa said.  

The Brazilians have said they want to see BRICS create an e-BRICS network of hi-tech startup companies, greater co-operation among the investment agencies of the five member states, and greater collaboration in research fighting TB, including the development of a vaccine.