BRICS Leaders Pledge Support for Multilateralism, Inclusive Growth at Johannesburg Summit

2 August 2018

Leaders from the BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – met from 25-27 July for the group’s tenth annual summit, in which they pledged to enhance cooperation across a range of policy areas. The bloc issued the Johannesburg Declaration at the end of the meeting, a 102-point document that emphasised a commitment to multilateralism and the WTO, as well as in supporting an inclusive, sustainable development model. 

The group of leading emerging economies organised in 2006 and held its first summit in Russia in 2009. South Africa, which chairs the coalition this year, has hosted the summit previously and has been a member of the bloc since late 2010. 

The goal of the group is to enhance cooperation among its members to advance shared goals, which they name as mutually beneficial development built around economic and security pillars, as well as people-to-people exchanges between them.

The theme of this year’s summit was “BRICS in Africa: Collaboration for Inclusive Growth and Shared Prosperity in the 4th Industrial Revolution.” 

The 4th Industrial Revolution is a term coined by Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, in 2016. It is meant to capture emerging technological breakthroughs across physical, digital, and biological disciplines, for instance with robotics and biotechnology. 

Through a new BRICS Partnership on New Industrial Revolution (PartNIR), the BRICS countries aim to deepen cooperation “in digitalisation, industrialisation, innovation, inclusiveness and investment, to maximise the opportunities and address the challenges arising from the 4th Industrial Revolution.” 

The summit declaration lists the creation of a network of science parks and technology business incubators, as well as support for technology-intensive small and medium-sized enterprises as positive steps in this direction. 

Additional new avenues for BRICS cooperation under South Africa’s leadership include a Working Group on Peacekeeping; a Vaccine Research Centre focused on collaborative research and development and vaccine innovation; a BRICS Gender and Women’s Forum as a dedicated track for gender and women’s issues; and BRICS Tourism Track of Cooperation. 

Global governance and multilateralism

Throughout the joint declaration, BRICS leaders reaffirmed their commitment to institutions of global governance, while also calling for reforms that would, among other changes, acknowledge and incorporate a greater role for emerging and developing countries; and “a more fair, just, and representative multipolar international order.” 

For instance, the declaration affirmed the importance of an “international system based on international law, with the UN Charter as its fundamental cornerstone.” However, the document also asserted a “need for a comprehensive reform of the UN, including its Security Council, with a view to making it more representative, effective, and efficient, and to increase the representation of the developing countries so that it can adequately respond to global challenges.” 

The group also reaffirmed its commitment to the “rules-based, transparent, non-discriminatory, open, and inclusive multilateral trading system” of the WTO, and pledged to make efforts to strengthen the multilateral trading system in the face of “unprecedented challenges.” 

The declaration stressed BRICS leaders’ concern over the WTO dispute settlement system and the “impasse in the selection process for new Appellate Body members.” There are currently three vacancies on the seven-member global trade court, and a fourth seat will open up at the end of September if the impasse is not resolved. The US has blocked the start of selection processes to fill those seats. Should members not reach a solution by the end of September, that would leave the court at only three judges, the very minimum it needs to function given that three Appellate Body members must sign off on any ruling. 

The BRICS declaration thus urged all WTO members “to engage constructively to address this challenge” and continue to develop the multilateral trading system in the interests of all members, and in particular developing country members. 

The BRICS leaders also called on developed and emerging economies to continue to engage on global economic cooperation through venues like the Group of 20 (G20), the Financial Stability Board (FSB), and other global forums. 

Speaking at a BRICS Business Forum in parallel with the summit, Xi noted that the coming years would “see a profound reshaping of the global governance system,” and called upon his fellow BRICS leaders to “firmly promote an open world economy, be resolute in rejecting unilateralism and protectionism, and promote trade and investment liberalisation and facilitation.” 

“The international community has reached a new crossroads; and we are facing a choice between cooperation and confrontation, between opening-up and a close-door policy, and between mutual benefit and a beggar-thy-neighbour approach” he warned, noting that the evolution of the international order will have implications far beyond major players, extending to middle and low-income economies as well. 

Trade and sustainable development ties

The BRICS leaders affirmed their support for the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, noting the potential for implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a means of delivering inclusive, sustainable development. They also called for developed countries to meet their foreign aid commitments and provide further support to developing country partners. 

Similarly, the group affirmed its commitment to the implementation of the UN’s Paris Agreement on climate change and to related processes under the UN climate talks, while urging developed countries “to provide financial, technological, and capacity-building support to developing countries to enhance their capability in mitigation and adaptation.” 

In the energy and energy efficiency fields, the countries called for greater intra-BRICS cooperation to speed up the transition to environmentally sustainable energy systems. They noted that BRICS energy ministers have set up a BRICS Energy Research Cooperation Platform to help advance this goal. 

The group also seeks to build on and enhance progress from the BRICS Agricultural Research Platform, which was initiated two years ago. In particular, they aim to bolster intra-BRICS collaboration and improve research on climate-related resilience of current farm and food systems. 

Other sustainability topics addressed in the declaration included water resources management, biodiversity conservation, and the “Oceans Economy,” with the countries pledging enhanced cooperation on each. 

Chinese, Indian leaders visit African countries ahead of summit

In the days ahead of the BRICS summit, Xi and Modi both visited several African nations, seeking to strengthen political and economic ties. 

Xi visited Mauritius, Rwanda, and Senegal before arriving in South Africa, pledging financial support, especially for infrastructure projects linked to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. (See Bridges Africa, 5 July 2018

In Rwanda, Xi called for increased investment from Chinese companies in central and eastern Africa. He signed over a dozen bilateral agreements and loans with the country, including US$126 million in loans for two road projects, according to figures cited by the South China Morning Post. China has also invested in highway projects in Senegal recently, and on his visit, Xi pledged additional support in the areas of peacekeeping, anti-terror efforts, and general development. 

Mauritius is in the process of negotiating a free trade agreement (FTA) with China, which would make it the first African nation to do so. In South Africa, Xi pledged US$14.7 billion of investment and promised to increase Chinese imports from the country. 

Modi visited Rwanda and Uganda prior to the BRICS summit, pledging a US$200 million loan for infrastructure projects in Rwanda, according to reporting by The East African. India also plans to open 18 new embassies across Africa, bringing its total number on the continent to 47, further signalling enhanced commitment to the region. 

In the BRICS summit declaration, the countries stressed the importance of infrastructure and connectivity for Africa’s continued development. They affirmed their continued support “for sustainable infrastructure development in Africa, including addressing the infrastructure financing deficit.” 

The declaration also highlighted the importance of multilateral development banks, especially the BRICS-led New Development Bank (NDB), in increasing private investment and financing for infrastructure projects. (See Bridges Weekly, 17 July 2014

The countries also noted the upcoming establishment of an NDB Americas Regional Office in São Paulo, Brazil, which along with the Africa Regional Centre, “will help the NDB consolidate its presence in those continents.” 

Next year’s BRICS summit will head to Brazil, who will have the rotating chairmanship of the coalition. 

ICTSD reporting; “China’s Xi says world must ‘reject protectionism outright,’” ASSOCIATED PRESS, 26 July 2018; “Xi Jinping’s trip to Africa cements continent’s growing ties to China, and Beijing’s loans,” SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST, 29 July 2018; “Xi Jinping signs up Senegal for belt and road plan, pledges closer Africa ties,” SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST, 22 July 2018; “Why Asian giants have eyes on resource rich East Africa,” THE EAST AFRICAN, 28 July 2018.

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