In 2001, Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs foresaw the tremendous potential of emerging markets and coined the term “BRICS”.
Since then, a shared commitment to multilateralism, prosperity and greater role of developing countries in global governance has brought Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa -- the current five members of BRICS -- closer together.
Yet 16 years since its founding as a mechanism, as the global economy struggles with the Covid-19 crisis, some people have become less sanguine about BRICS, asserting that the grouping has “disappointed” and asking questions like “Is the emerging world still emerging?”
Has BRICS lost its lustre? To answer this question, it might be helpful to take a look at the state of the world first.
The pandemic has devastated lives and livelihoods across the globe and does not seem likely to end any time soon. Global development, including the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, is visibly slowing and becoming more unbalanced. Climate change, worsening desertification and frequent extreme weather events threaten the very survival of humanity. The global governance system is in urgent need of reform, as international rules and multilateral institutions are beset by a lack of consensus and unilateral actions.
How has BRICS performed in the face of these enormous challenges? Has it truly “disappointed”?
Let facts speak for themselves. To combat the ongoing pandemic, BRICS countries have launched the BRICS Vaccines Research and Development Centre, an initiative championed by China and South Africa. Sinovac, a Chinese bio-pharma company, has partnered with South Africa’s Numolux to produce jabs, and paediatric trials are moving towards phase 3.
BRICS countries are actively addressing global challenges like climate change, and have renewed their commitment in a recent joint statement on deepening climate collaboration.
Take South Africa and China for example. South Africa has established a Presidential Climate Commission and adopted a National Adaptation Strategy.
It is also developing plans to enable a just transition to a low-carbon economy and climate resilient society, a critical step in successful climate action. Likewise, China has been implementing proactive national climate strategies to peak carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060, an ambitious goal for a newly industrialised country.
Yet the two countries have done the right thing and made the tough decision, dwarfing what many advanced countries have promised and done.
Amid headwinds against globalization and attempts by some Western forces to sever global industrial and supply chains, BRICS countries are a valuable source of stability for the world economy. Combined, they account for 42 percent of the world’s population, over 25 percent of its GDP, 18 percent of global trade in goods and over half of global growth.
BRICS countries are aware of the responsibility that comes with their economic heft. They are building a digital economy partnership and fast- tracking the BRICS PartNIR, a flagship project promoted by China and South Africa to seize the opportunities of the new industrial revolution, in a bid to find a new path for the world.
The New Development Bank (NDB) is injecting urgently needed financing into global development. By May 2022, over 85 projects had been approved, totalling a portfolio of US$31 billion. Between 2022 and 2026, the NDB is scheduled to provide another US$30 billion in financing. Last year, it welcomed the UAE, Uruguay, Bangladesh and Egypt as new members, extending its reach to more emerging markets.
BRICS countries are also helping to “rescue the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and get them back on track”, as United Nations chief Antonio Guterres has urged. The Global Development Initiative proposed by China will likely catalyse SDG implementation and create further room for BRICS cooperation. South Africa, with its Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan, is also making great contributions to delivering on the 2030 Agenda.
By virtue of these actions, BRICS countries are helping to keep multilateralism alive. The results of their cooperation are meaningful steps towards more fair and effective global governance.
In its early days, BRICS was spelt BRICs. The “s” was capitalised upon South Africa’s joining the grouping in 2010 at Beijing’s invitation. The name change has made BRICS a truly global grouping, as the voice of a vast and important continent could finally be heard.
A few weeks ago, BRICS foreign ministers agreed to promote discussions on the BRICS expansion process and further extend cooperation to the wider developing world. More countries are expected to join BRICS, amplifying this positive, stable and constructive force for good in a turbulent world.
A comment on YouTube about the foreign ministers’ meeting says it best, “The collective West has had its day, with only numerous invasions/wars to show for their determination to rule all governments. We look forward to a new group to plan the next era.”
In a sense, BRICS countries work like bricks. They pave pathways to prosperity, build lines of defence against Covid-19 and climate change, and convene dialogues for better global governance. At difficult times like this, we need more of BRICS to create a fairer and stronger world for all.
The author is a Beijing-based current affairs commentator who has contributed to The Straits Times, The Jakarta Post and The Brussels Times.