The truth be told, Brics is far more relevant now than it has been at any other time since its formation, and that is because the polarisation and increasing protectionism of the traditional global powers are at an all-time high. This trajectory has particularly negative consequences for the developing south, which means the new emerging powers of Brics need to collaborate more effectively to offset the effects of the north pulling up the drawbridges. Brics is not in competition with other global formations dominated by Western countries, but it is a platform to push for greater global equity - both political and economic.
That will be the theme South Africa envisions for the upcoming Brics Summit - working towards a more equitable and inclusive global environment. It will place the reform of the UN high on the summit’s agenda. But this has always been a priority of the global south, and concrete discussions on how to implement the reform of UN decision-making has been ongoing for the past two decades.
The key challenge of this summit will be for South Africa to guide the Brics discussions towards how to realise those reforms, particularly given that Russia and China are permanent members of the UN Security Council and should drive a reform agenda. If nothing tangible comes out of such discussions, then talks about furthering global equity will ring hollow.
As host of the summit, South Africa is able to set the agenda, and beyond the focus on multilateralism and UN reform, our four priorities speak directly to Africa’s urgent needs. South Africa has prioritised access to medicine for the continent, and developing research opportunities in the health sector. Our tangible proposal is to establish a virtual vaccine research centre, which will capitalise on our collective intellectual knowledge within Brics to devise vaccines to address numerous health challenges. This is arguably the most important of the four identified priorities.
The other three priorities are also innovative and relevant which include: to establish a working group on peacekeeping given that the Brics members are major troop contributing countries; to establish a dedicated Brics women’s track to look at empowerment issues; a working group to look at the impact of the fourth industrial revolution.
South Africa last hosted the Brics Summit in 2013, giving it the chance to set the agenda for the group only every five years. It was South Africa that initiated a Brics outreach programme at the last summit it hosted in 2013. This was to ensure that Brics was not a closed shop, and reached out to states wanting to engage on issues impacting the global community. Given the need to reconfigure the political and economic global environment, this engagement is still considered key.
For the upcoming summit, South Africa will revert to the same formula it used in 2013, which is to invite the chairs of the Regional Economic Communities, the chairs of Nepad, the AU, and the AU Commission, as well as leaders from five countries of the global south.
Given China’s initiative at the Xiamen summit last year to create “Brics Plus,” it may be that the eventual expansion of the group is on the cards. While South Africa would welcome an inclusive approach, a formal expansion of the grouping at some point would mean South Africa’s influence in terms of setting the agenda may be diluted. This makes the agenda and outcomes of the upcoming summit all the more important, and we should leverage this opportunity to the maximum in order to push forward the African agenda.
The summit is also an opportunity to further capitalise on track 2 - that being the interaction of the private sector under the aegis of the Brics Business Council chaired by Dr Iqbal Survé.
It is expected that a thousand business people will attend the business forum, and it presents a golden opportunity for South African chief executives to network and establish relations with executives from the Brics countries on their home turf.
In terms of boosting investment in South Africa and increasing our trade volumes with the largest emerging economies, this is an opportunity that South African business should already be preparing for.
* Shannon Ebrahim is Independent Media's foreign editor.