Information Bulletin of the BRICS Trade Union Forum
Issue 17.2020
2020.04.20 — 2020.04.26
International relations
Foreign policy in the context of BRICS
Jaishankar speaks to his counterparts from US, Russia, Brazil, Saudi Arabia (Джайшанкар поговорил со своими коллегами из США, России, Бразилии, Саудовской Аравии) / India, April, 2020
Keywords: foreign_ministers_meeting, covid-19, quotation

New Delhi, Apr 23 (PTI) External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Thursday held telephonic conversation with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Brazilian counterpart Ernesto Araújo, broadly focusing on ways to effectively deal with the coronavirus pandemic that has killed over 180,000 people globally. Jaishankar also held telephonic talks with Oman''s Foreign Minister Yusuf Alawi and his Saudi counterpart Prince Saud al-Faisal and thanked both of them for taking care of the Indian community living in their countries.

About his talks with Pompeo, the External Affairs Minister said he exchanged views with the US Secretary of State on the situation in Afghanistan besides discussing the coronavirus crisis.

"Nice to hear from @SecPompeo of #UnitedStates. Discussed our #coronavirus responses and the importance of international cooperation. Working closely on its implications and consequences. Also exchanged views on the Afghanistan situation," Jaishankar tweeted.

It is not known whether the issue of US President Donald Trump''s executive order temporarily halting immigration into the US for 60 days figured in the conversation.

About his talks with Lavrov, Jaishankar said the two sides discussed about the forthcoming meeting of the foreign ministers of the BRICS countries as well as situation in Afghanistan.

"Good to speak with FM Sergey Lavrov of #Russia. Discussed the forthcoming #BRICS Foreign Ministers Meeting. Also reviewed recent developments pertaining to Afghanistan. Our cooperation on #coronavirus reflects our special friendship," he tweeted.

The BRICS (Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa) is also an influential bloc which represents over 3.6 billion people, or half of the world population and have a combined GDP of USD 16.6 trillion. All the BRICS member nations are reeling under the pandemic.

In another tweet, Jaishankar described his talks with the Brazilian Foreign Minister as "productive" adding they review implementation of decisions taken during President Jair Bolsonaro''s visit here earlier this year.

About his talks with Prince Faisal, the External Affairs Minister said it was a "warm conversation" and that India will remain a reliable partner of the Gulf nation.

"Appreciated the very warm conversation with HH Prince Faisal, FM of #SaudiArabia. Thanked him for taking care of the Indian community there. Discussed our shared interest in ensuring health and food security. India will remain a reliable partner," he said.

In another tweet, Jaishankar said he was very pleased to speak to Oman''s Foreign Minister Alawi.

"Very pleased to speak with FM Yusuf Alawi. Appreciated #Oman's taking care of the Indian community there. As trusted partners, assured him of India's support in the collective fight against #coronavirus," Jaishankar said. PTI MPB ZMN

Press release on Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's telephone conversation with Indian Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar (О телефонном разговоре Министра иностранных дел Российской Федерации С.В.Лаврова с Министром иностранных дел Республики Индии С.Джайшанкаром) / Russia, April, 2020
Keywords: foreign_ministers_meeting, sergey_lavrov, covid-19

On April 23, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had a telephone conversation with Minister of External Affairs of the Republic of India Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.

The ministers discussed topical issues on the bilateral and international agendas, including joint efforts to combat the novel coronavirus pandemic in the context of the recent decisions of the UN General Assembly, the prospects for an Afghan settlement, BRICS activities during Russia's chairmanship and cooperation in the Russia-India-China format.

Press release on Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's participation in an extraordinary meeting of the BRICS Ministers of Foreign Affairs/International Relations (Об участии Министра иностранных дел России С.В.Лаврова во внеочередном совещании глав внешнеполитических ведомств государств БРИКС) / Russia, April, 2020
Keywords: foreign_ministers_meeting, sergey_lavrov, covid-19

At the initiative of the Russian side, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will chair an extraordinary meeting of the BRICS Ministers of Foreign Affairs/International Relations via videoconference on April 28.

The meeting will focus on the impact of the crisis caused by the coronavirus outbreak on international relations. The ministers will exchange views on possible joint measures to be taken by the member states to counter COVID-19 and to overcome the financial, trade, economic and social consequences of the pandemic. They will also discuss current issues of developing the five-sided strategic partnership, including the event calendar of the Russian BRICS Chairmanship this year.

Investment and Finance
Investment and finance in BRICS
Mboweni assures BRICS Bank governors that SA will implement structural reforms (Мбовени уверяет управляющих банка БРИКС, что ЮАР проведет структурные реформы) / South Africa, April, 2020
Keywords: investments, covid-19, economic_challenges
South Africa

JOHANNESBURG - Finance minister Tito Mboweni has given a strong indication yet that the much awaited structural reforms would form a large part of the government's economic recovery plan to be unveiled tonight.

President Cyril Ramaphosa will today finally unveil the additional economic and social relief measures that form part of the national response to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic following extensive consultation with various stakeholders.

In a statement yesterday, Mboweni assured following the 5th New Development Bank board of governors' virtual meeting that structural reforms were part of the government's economic recovery plan.

"South Africa acted timeously in introducing measures to mitigate against the spread of the virus, including implementing a state of national disaster, national lockdown, and social distancing," Mboweni said.

"We have also been working on a national recovery package, which will include putting in place the much needed structural reforms."

Last year, the government embraced the ideas contained in the National Treasury's document "Towards an Economic Strategy for South Africa", but its implementation was hampered by

The plan calls for strengthening the macroeconomic framework to deliver certainty, transparency and lower borrowing costs, focusing spending on education, health and social development, modernising "network industries" and restructuring the State-owned enterprises.

It also wants the government to open markets to trade with the rest of the continent, implement a re-imagined industrial strategy, lower the cost of doing business, and focus on job-creating sectors, such as agriculture and tourism.

The plan also called on the government to leverage the private sector as far as possible, which has been evident with the pledges made into the Solidarity Fund.

Reports have emerged that Ramaphosa is said to have told an extended meeting of the ruling party's National Working Committee on Monday that he needed to raise R1-trillion immediately to cushion the impact of Covid-19.

South Africa's already high unemployment rate is set to skyrocket this year as the Reserve Bank forecast that as much as 370 000 jobs will be lost and 1 600 small businesses go insolvent.

The Covid-19, which has infected 3 300 people and killed 58 others, has grind the economy to a halt and shattered the already frail activity, with gross domestic product (GDP) forecast to decline to unprecedented levels.
Foreign funding is South Africa's best option (Иностранное финансирование - лучший вариант для Южной Африки) / South Africa, April, 2020
Keywords: economic_challenges, expert_opinion
South Africa

It comes at a lower interest rate than loans on the open market.

It's an open secret that South Africa cannot afford more debt. At the same time it cannot afford to not stimulate the economy, so this means it needs to make a plan to receive a loan that will see it pay less interest.

When President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday evening announced the ground-breaking and historic socio-economic relief measures worth R500 billion to address the Covid-19 crisis, he mentioned that: "To date, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund [IMF], the Brics New Development Bank [NDB] and the African Development Bank have been approached and are working with National Treasury on various funding transactions."

Prior to Covid-19 hitting South Africa's shores, the government had made a commitment to bring down debt, reduce the deficit and cut spending.

South Africa currently pays back 4% of GDP every year towards government debt.

When the president announced the relief measures, with seven main interventions that were much welcomed, it meant that around R130 billion of the R500 billion support package would, however, be reprioritised from the existing budget.

Lower interest rates's chief economist Mike Schüssler says foreign loans will offer South Africa lower interest rates.

"If international financial institutions can help and [lend] us the money, we will get far lower interest rates," Schüssler says.

According to the IMF's website, members may apply for emergency assistance. It says there are some requirements for support under the Rapid Credit Facility (RCF) and Rapid Financing Instrument (RFI), including that the county's debt is sustainable or on track to be sustainable, that it has urgent balance of payments needs, and that it is pursuing appropriate policies to address the crisis.

It says it also takes into account any debt restructuring operation underway and its prospects for success, which underscores the importance of every stakeholder trying to support countries in distress.

Funds 'within weeks'

"After a country has formally requested support, staff assess [its] qualification requirements, work with the authorities to prepare a letter of intent, and prepare a staff report for the IMF executive board," it says. "We have streamlined our internal review processes and expect to be able in many cases to make financing available within weeks after a request for emergency financing."

Schüssler says he is not certain at this point if SA will be getting special drawing rights (SDR) for the loan it intends to receive from the IMF, but if it is, this would be more favourable for the country.

"An IMF $4.2 facility will be [at an interest rate of] 1%, and for SDRs it will be 0.08%," he says. "Then for others, like the World Bank and African Development Bank, we will also get loans that are below what we can get on the open market."

"Also, [US] Federal Reserve swaps are 0.5% – and at fixed exchange rates," Schüssler adds.

Early in April the Brics NDB said it was ready to lend South Africa $1 billion to tackle the immediate Covid-19 public health crisis – with another $1 billion later this year to help re-stimulate the economy after the downturn, which is expected as a result of the pandemic and the lockdown.

For all these foreign funders – as with the governments in need of the funding – the focus of the first efforts is to help health systems tackle the immediate challenges of Covid-19.

The World Bank says it could provide up to $160 billion in support to client countries over the next 15 months.

One of its first components will be $6 billion for expedited loan guarantees from the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency. "This will enable the purchase of urgent medical equipment and provide working capital for companies, including smaller businesses, while also supporting governments' short-term funding needs," it says.

The conditions

Schüssler points out that foreign funding often comes with accountability.

"For SDRs the IMF would want some insight and views into budget and spending. But the days of servicing structural adjustment [programmes] seem long gone," Schüssler says.

He says, for example, that they would probably want to know how the money is spent and how transparent tenders are, but "they will not say cut this and that".

He says countries that have received such loans generally decide what to do and how to get their budget deficits under control.

"The IMF was mainly focused on the balance of payments, but has moved on to other things [since] the Asian financial and 2008/9 crisis," Schüssler says.

Pressure on bonds

Schüssler says the main reason foreign loans would be a better option for SA at present is because the bond market is under pressure. "Our bond market is stressed," he says, adding that if foreign loans are granted, they will be accessed at a fixed exchange rate and interest rate. Bonds don't provide that certainty.

A further benefit, says Schüssler, is that there may come a time when local government bonds need to be issued.

"We will also issue local bonds anyway as part of the normal programme," he points out.

But it may be that SA must issue more bonds, even with the foreign funding help. Therefore it will have to keep potential funders in local markets in its sights. "We should also then tap foreign normal bond markets from time to time," Schüssler says.

Impact on growth objectives

Investec economist Lara Hodes does not dispute that foreign debt is an option that needs to be explored at these are unprecedented times, but points out that Finance Minister Tito Mboweni has said that the aim is to stabilise public debt.

"Instead, the widening of government debt projections substantially further would increase the likelihood of additional credit rating downgrades, making SA's growth objectives more difficult to achieve," she says.

She acknowledges however that: "These extraordinary times require urgent measures, unfortunately."

NDB Board of Governors Holds Fifth Annual Meeting in Virtual Format (Совет управляющих НБР провел пятую ежегодную встречу в виртуальном формате) / China, April, 2020
Keywords: ndb, top_level_meeting, covid-19

The Board of Governors (BoG) of the New Development Bank (NDB) held its Fifth Annual Meeting virtually on April 20, 2020.

Governors exchanged views on the next five-year General Strategy of the New Development Bank, highlighting that the NDB supports infrastructure and sustainable development projects tailored to the needs of individual countries, respecting their development priorities and strategies.

"Our approach has been one of being extremely receptive to client needs, offering local and hard currency products, managing risks prudently, avoiding the traditional donor-donee mindset, and focusing on contributing to our members' sustainable development goals," said the NDB President Mr. K.V. Kamath in his statement at the Meeting.

The Board of Governors approved Audited Financial Accounts of the Ordinary Operations for the period from January 1, 2019 to December 31, 2019. The BoG also approved Audited Financial Accounts for the Project Preparation Fund for the period January 1, 2019 to December 31, 2019.

The Board elected Mr. Anton Siluanov, the Governor for Russia, Minister of Finance as the Chairperson of the Board of Governors, and Mrs. Nirmala Sitharaman, the Governor for India, Minister of Finance as the Vice-Chairperson of the Board of Governors. It was announced that they shall serve in the respective positions until the end of the next Annual Meeting of the Board.

The Board of Governors decided that its Sixth Annual Meeting will be held in Russia in 2021. It was also decided that the Board will hold a special meeting in May, 2020 to elect the next President of the Bank.

During the Meeting, Governors exchanged views on responding to the novel coronavirus outbreak and approved Statement on Response to COVID-19 Outbreak.

"On behalf of the Bank, I would like to convey that we deeply regret the loss of life and economic and social distress being caused by COVID-19. The Bank stands in solidarity with you and the global community in the fight against this pandemic and is devoting a significant portion of its human and financial resources to assist its members," said Mr. K.V. Kamath.

Background information

The NDB was established by Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa to mobilize resources for infrastructure and sustainable development projects in BRICS and other emerging economies and developing countries, complementing the existing efforts of multilateral and regional financial institutions for global growth and development. To fulfill its purpose, the NDB will support public or private projects through loans, guarantees, equity participation and other financial instruments. According to the NDB's General Strategy, sustainable infrastructure development is at the core of the Bank's operational strategy for 2017-2021. In August 2018, the Bank received AA+ long-term issuer credit ratings from S&P and Fitch.

BRICS states could increase WHO funding due to US withdrawal of contributions, says expert (Государства БРИКС могут увеличить финансирование ВОЗ из-за отмены взносов США, считает эксперт) / Russia, April, 2020
Keywords: investments, covid-19

MOSCOW, April 23. /TASS/. BRICS member states (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) could increase their funding of the World Health Organization (WHO) and to expand medical cooperation with other states due to the US decision to withdraw its contributions to the organization, Dmitry Suslov, deputy head of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies of the Higher School of Economics National Research University, said on Thursday.

"A few days ago, the US announced that it would withdraw or suspend funding of the World Health Organization. BRICS states could make a statement, in which they would announce their increased contributions to this organization that plays a central role in the global anti-pandemic governance," Suslov said. "BRICS states could announce further coordination in their approaches to aiding other states, states with weaker healthcare systems than those of BRICS states."

The expert stressed that the spread of the disease in less developed countries would threaten the security of BRICS member states. He noted that BRICS is interested in strengthening the healthcare system in such states.

Cui Zheng, deputy head of the Research Center for the Economies and Politics of Transitional Countries at Liaoning University, expressed a similar opinion. He noted that China actively helps their partners within BRICS to combat the novel coronavirus pandemic.

"The most important thing for us is international cooperation within BRICS. The member states have clearly stated their solidarity, uniting in the fight against the coronavirus," the expert stated. "Not only do China and Russia actively help each other, they are supplying materials needed to combat the coronavirus to other states."

In late December 2019, Chinese officials notified the World Health Organization (WHO) about the outbreak of a previously unknown pneumonia in the city of Wuhan, in central China. Since then, cases of the novel coronavirus - named COVID-19 by the WHO - have been reported in every corner of the globe, including Russia.

On March 11, 2020, the WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. According to the latest statistics, over 2,600,000 people have been infected worldwide and more than 184,000 deaths have been reported. In addition, so far, over 723,000 individuals have recovered from the illness across the globe.
Political Events
Political events in the public life of BRICS
South Africa unleashes largest ever spending plan, but adds to debt worries (Южная Африка обнародовала крупнейший в истории план расходов, но добавляет долги) / USA, April, 2020
Keywords: economic_challenges, cyril_ramaphosa, covid-19

1. The stimulus package, which amounts to almost 10% of South Africa's gross domestic product, will be funded by the redirection of expenditure from existing budgets and borrowing from domestic and international lenders.
2. The World Bank, the IMF, the BRICS New Development Bank and the African Development Bank have been approached for loan financing, according to President Cyril Ramaphosa.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a $26 billion fiscal stimulus package, the largest in his country's history, to tackle the economic fallout from the coronavirus. The package, which amounts to almost 10% of South Africa's gross domestic product, will be funded by the redirection of expenditure from existing budgets and additional borrowing from domestic and international lenders.

The cash will be allocated toward guarantees to banks so as to encourage lending, protection and creation of jobs, and welfare grants to the poor and unemployed, Ramaphosa confirmed. He also revealed that the World Bank, the IMF, the BRICS New Development Bank and the African Development Bank had been approached for loan financing. "We are resolved not merely to return our economy to where it was before the coronavirus, but to forge a new economy in a new global reality," Ramaphosa said in an address to the nation. "Our economic strategy going forward will require a new social compact among all role players — business, labor, community and government — to restructure the economy and achieve inclusive growth." Debt deterioration

The aggressive fiscal measures have been met with widespread public support, and World Health Organization Executive Director Mike Ryan on Wednesday lauded South Africa's efforts to quell the spread of the virus.

South Africa implemented strict nationwide lockdown measures in late March and has ramped up testing and contact-tracing efforts, thus far containing the rate of infection well below that seen in Europe and the U.S. As of Thursday, the country has confirmed 3,635 cases with 65 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

But with the Treasury having already cautioned that debt was nearing unsustainable levels, and South Africa's sovereign credit rated as "junk" by all major ratings agencies, the short-term positive impact may come with greater long-term complications, both economic and political.

"High debt loads, at 59.6% of GDP, constrain South Africa's ability to fund its proposed package independently, and it will need to rely on external debt from the World Bank and the IMF's Rapid Credit Facility," said Indigo Ellis, head of Africa at Verisk Maplecroft.

"This will accelerate South Africa's rising debt-to-GDP ratio, which had been set to hit over 70% of GDP by 2023, further constraining its economic policy space."

The South African Reserve Bank (SARB) has been active in loosening monetary conditions, cutting its main repo rate twice since the crisis began to 4.25%. Ellis suggested that the central bank is running out of room to maneuver, with rising inflation exacerbating food insecurity among jobless populations in informal rural areas also heightening the chance of civil unrest. The central bank expects South Africa's economy to contract by 6%, and although diversified enough on paper to withstand a total collapse, its main employment sectors of tourism, manufacturing and mining will take a while to ramp back up, Ellis projected.
Political fissures

One of the key challenges to Ramaphosa's bold economic reform agenda so far has been factional disagreements within his ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC). Ellis suggested that the faction aligned with Ramaphosa's predecessor Jacob Zuma would likely challenge his leadership on the basis of any pursuit of IMF support. "The conditionalities attached to any official IMF program will lay bare the depths of corruption and state sponsored graft in South African political structures, a hangover from former president Zuma's tenure," Ellis said in a research note Wednesday.

Zuma is currently facing corruption charges in South Africa, with the case set to resume on May 6. The National Prosecuting Authority in February issued a warrant for his arrest after he failed to appear in court on health grounds. "The pro-Zuma faction are terrified of being prosecuted for ills committed during Zuma's presidency. The forced transparency an IMF loan would dictate, as well as the power it would give an already more proactive prosecuting body, could see them in the stands," Ellis said.
World of Work
For BRICS, challenges and opportunities (Проблемы и возможности БРИКС) / India, April, 2020
Keywords: expert_opinion

A Russian think tank says the grouping can fill the void in global governance in the time of crisis

The COVID-19 crisis seems to have put Russia's Presidency of BRICS (a grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) to the test. While each BRICS country is busy fighting the pandemic in its own way, Moscow is trying to make sure that it gains from the crisis.

The plans for 12th BRICS summit, scheduled for July 21-23 in St. Petersburg, are still on, although many believe it could be postponed or organised online. Speaking at a summit in Brasilia on November 14, 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin said BRICS should pay special attention to expanding foreign policy coordination, primarily at the UN.

Many experts believe the COVID-19 pandemic that highlighted a crisis of globalisation and global governance could help the Russian President convince his BRICS partners to overcome the lack of common vision, especially in the political domain, and lead the group towards filling the void of governance.

A report, "BRICS and the Rivalry Pandemic", released by Russian think-tank Valdai Club this week, notes that the question of considering BRICS as a global governance institution has now come to the fore. It argues that COVID-19 is another stage for political rivalry that has reinforced some international disputes and conflicts with the U.S. "ratching up its confrontational policy towards China and Russia". In this scenario, BRICS emerges as an important global governance institution.

"BRICS looks better than other global governance institutions amidst the ongoing COVID crises. There is no blame-game or pointing fingers within BRICS, rather there is only a common vision for intensifying cooperation, including in sectors like healthcare, social welfare," Viktoria Panova, managing director of the National Committee for BRICS Research, said during an online conference with the report's authors organised by Valdai Club.

According to Dmitry Suslov, Deputy Director at the Centre for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the Higher School of Economics, Moscow, the pandemic has intensified the fight for global leadership and the tools used in this fight, such as economic sanctions and trade wars, would keep developing and improving.

He added that while G7, created during the Cold War, is today used by the leading Western powers to strengthen their position in the competition with non-West and to restore a rules-based international order, BRICS is based on entirely different values, and adheres to the goals and objectives of the UN Charter and the idea of equality.

The BRICS grouping is often criticised for being ineffective. Many, especially in the West, predicted that it would not live long. But BRICS is very much alive, has progressed on developing a common position on the most important matters of the global economy and security and also got institutionalised with the setting up of the BRICS New Development Bank in 2015.

Slow progress

However, disagreements between its members and slow progress shown on the ground when it comes to implementation of initiatives make it quite vulnerable to criticism. This is exactly where the pandemic could help BRICS, experts believe.

So what can be done? "The pandemic has highlighted that the five countries need to pay more attention to speeding up the practical implementation of the projects and decisions that are being agreed on," said Pavel Knyazev, Deputy Director, Department of Foreign Policy Planning of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Mr. Knyazev added that work should be accelerated on establishing the BRICS Center for Research and Development of vaccines.

The decision to set it up was taken back in 2018 at the Johannesburg summit. Apart from that, BRICS countries are planning to work on an early warning mechanism for outbreaks of infection, the development of diagnostic and preventive measures for the disease, as well as joint epidemiological exercises while the New Development Bank would provide financial anti-crisis assistance to members to fight the pandemic.

The intentions are good, but money could be an issue, said Nandan Unnikrishnan from Observer Research Foundation (ORF), New Delhi. "There is going to be very serious lack of money as all the countries in the BRICS are going to be economically affected because of COVID," he said. "So at this juncture, BRICS should focus on what is achievable, making sure it uses the crises time to find a common vision, lack of which has always been one its weaknesses."

(Ksenia Kondratieva is a journalist based in Moscow)

Russian think tank says cooperation within BRICS should strengthen (Российский аналитический центр считает, что сотрудничество в рамках БРИКС должно укрепляться) / China, April, 2020
Keywords: think_tank_council

MOSCOW, April 22 (Xinhua) -- After the COVID-19 pandemic is over, the importance of cooperation within BRICS will increase, according to a report of Russian think tank Valdai Discussion Club.

"In a world where unilateral action is becoming more prevalent, the number of conflicts is growing, and many institutions and forums are paralyzed, BRICS may well meet the demand for multilateralism and global governance," the report said.

BRICS should openly position itself as a global governance institution, which does not seek to weaken anyone or to take anyone's place, but to fill the global governance void, the think tank said.

It said that the five nations should speed up the development of innovative financial tools to blunt the damage caused by U.S. sanctions, and to reduce the U.S. dollar's significance in favor of national currencies in trade between them and with third countries.

The coronavirus outbreak has shone a spotlight on the importance of the BRICS countries' cooperation in tackling key challenges such as environmental degradation, climate change and pandemics, the report said.

Other countries must be part of the effort, it added.

A new enhanced BRICS+ should maintain a dialogue with the countries that are most committed to the goal of forming a polycentric world order, pursue an independent policy and help solve specific global and regional problems, the think tank noted. Enditem

Conference Aims to Examine Potential Within Brics Group for South African Manufacturers (Цель конференции - изучить потенциал группы БРИКС для южноафриканских производителей) / South Africa, April, 2020
Keywords: economic_challenges
South Africa

The inaugural Brics Manufacturing Conference is scheduled to take place in Johannesburg on May 21. Brics is the acronym for the Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa alignment, the political aspects of which are complemented by the Brics Business Council. And under the Business Council is the Manufacturing Working Group (MWG).

The fundamental aim of the conference is to help South African manufacturers make use of the country's relations with the other Brics nations. In part, this requires an evaluation of the effectiveness of the South African chapter of the Brics Business Council and of its MWG.

"The manufacturing industry's contribution to the [South African] economy has been declining for the past two decades as a result of cheap imports from Asian economies, lacklustre domestic demand and rising operational and input costs," pointed out Brics Business Council South African chapter MWG chairman Kaizer Nyatsumba. "It is important, therefore, that domestic manufacturers should look beyond our borders if they are to survive and grow. It is against this backdrop that we decided to host the conference, which aims to assist South African manufacturers to take better advantage of the opportunities presented by Brics, amidst the slump that the economy currently finds itself in."

Currently scheduled to participate in the conference's plenary session are Manufacturing Circle CEO Philippa Rodseth and South African MWG deputy chairman Nizam Kalla. The conference will also address other topics, such as 'Progress Report on Priority MWG Projects', 'How South African Business Can Leverage Brics Membership Better', and 'A Focus on Some of the Planned New Special Economic Zones'.

Nyatsumba urged those involved in the manufacturing sector to come to the conference, both to hear the speakers and to contribute to the development of approaches that would help reverse the decline of the industry. This year marks the seventh anniversary of the creation of the Brics Business Council.

BRICS: Toward a New Climate Agenda (БРИКС: на пути к новой климатической программе) / Russia, April, 2020
Keywords: ecology, expert_opinion
Author: Igor Makarov

Global climate change is one of the main challenges to humanity in the 21st century and promises to be a pillar of the international agenda for the next few decades. The growing COVID-19 pandemic has taught humanity two important lessons already. First, a focus on economic growth should not undermine the ability of states to provide their populations with vital social goods, or of humanity to solve global problems. Second, the speed of response is important. The countries that promptly introduced restrictions managed to "flatten the curve" of new cases.

Climate change is like the long-term version of the coronavirus: decisive action to decarbonize the economy will be expensive today but will make it possible to bend the curve of growing emissions and avoid even greater damage in the future.

Alas, despite growing concern over climate change, humanity is still nowhere near solving the climate crisis. The pandemic and the associated economic recession will reduce emissions for some time but they will resume growing eventually. People, businesses and governments in Western countries support transitioning to a low-carbon economy, but these countries only account for about a third of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. And this share is set to rapidly decline in the future regardless of climate policy due to slower economic and population growth compared with the rest of the world. The dynamics of global emissions are now determined by the leading developing economies, primarily the BRICS countries. They are the first countries trying to raise living standards from low to medium and high in the era of global climate crisis. If they do so by following the growth models and consumption patterns of Western countries, the world can forget about the goal of curbing emissions; instead it will be full speed ahead to climate disaster. The key issue of the global efforts to counter climate change is not how many small European countries will become carbon neutral. What matters most is whether the huge BRICS economies will be able to find sustainable ways of achieving economic prosperity and to provide a model for developing nations that follow them - from Indonesia and Pakistan to the countries of tropical Africa.

BRICS countries have always declared that climate change is a top priority but their cooperation has mostly been limited to joint statements expressing their commitment to the values of green development and to discussing opportunities for technological exchange and joint funding of green projects. All this is important but can be carried out on a bilateral basis or by current international institutions. As a dialogue venue for countries with over 40 percent of the world's population and almost a third of global GDP (PPP), BRICS would be better served addressing a more important challenge: forging a common vision and approach to the climate threat and the global transition to low-carbon development.

It is important for the BRICS countries to make this transition inclusive and consonant with other goals of sustainable development: fighting poverty, reducing inequality and improving public access to social goods, including energy. The traditional climate policy toolkit, which has been rather successfully introduced in advanced nations, is hardly responsive to these needs. Thus, the relatively poor are shouldering the biggest burden of climate policy in the form of more expensive electricity and gasoline which are becoming more expensive as a result of hydrocarbon regulation. The yellow vests movement in France has shown that even in advanced countries inequality is becoming an obstacle to ambitious climate measures. In the BRICS countries the degree of social stratification is much higher. It will be even more difficult to pursue a similar model of climate policy, especially considering the inevitable growth of public polarization once the pandemic recedes.

The alternatives to traditional climate policy required by the BRICS countries probably lie outside the scope of what the West is discussing: how – and by how much – to raise the cost of hydrocarbons while compensating the most vulnerable strata in society for these expenses.. For the BRICS countries it is more important to revise the goal-setting of climate policy. The most important step on this path will be to reorient the focus of emissions cuts from production to consumption.

International agreements, from the Kyoto Protocol to the Paris Agreement, count the emissions on a country's territory, or production-based emissions. International trade is the dividing line between production- and consumption-based emissions. Higher consumption of carbon-intensive products may not be accompanied by an increase in territorial emissions but may contribute to their growth in the countries supplying these products. To a large extent, the success of the Western countries in reducing emissions in the past several decades have come from increasingly importing carbon-intensive products instead of producing them domestically. The imports primarily originate in the BRICS countries. Four members of the association (China, Russia, India and South Africa) are the world's leaders in emissions related to export products. In all of these countries, a not insignificant share of their emissions comes from producing goods that are shipped abroad.

To correct for this, the calculation of consumption-based emissions considers the emissions that go into producing the goods consumed in a country, no matter where the emissions physically occurred. Under such an approach, a considerable part of emissions from production in the BRICS countries will be reclassified as emissions from consumption in Western states. This raises the question of the responsibility for emissions from the production of goods that are bought and sold. Who should be responsible for them – the exporter or the importer? It also raises the matter of revising the carbon customs taxes that the EU is going to introduce on carbon-intensive imports. While important issues in themselves, however, they exceed the scope of this article. There is a more important aspect for BRICS: the emphasis on emissions from consumption is creating a different system of incentives and goals for the members of the association. Instead of focusing on the secondary aspects of the problem (such as the localization of carbon-intensive production) it makes it possible to concentrate on the main reason behind higher emissions – the growth of consumption.

In practical terms, the move to calculate consumption-based emissions is giving the BRICS countries a broader set of acceptable instruments of climate policy than the traditional approach of calculating production-based emissions.

To begin with, in addition to the traditional emphasis on technological solutions on the supply side (energy efficiency and renewable energy), calculating consumption-based emissions makes it possible to widely deploy means of cutting emissions on the demand side, which concern consumption patterns, lifestyle, infrastructure and provision of services. These ideas challenge the consumption model established in the West and have never been popular there for this reason. But they are the basis for the new development models that are required by the BRICS countries. These means of reducing emissions are particularly in demand for China as it turns to domestic consumption as to a new driver for growth and large-scale construction of infrastructure under the Belt and Road Initiative.

Second, by moving to calculate emissions based on consumption, the BRICS countries can adopt a fiscally progressive climate policy. While traditional carbon pricing mechanisms employed in advanced countries put most of the burden on the relatively poor members of society, the emphasis on consumption-based emissions and demand-side climate policy is making it possible to start deploying political instruments aimed at countering the excessive consumption by the wealthiest in society. In other words, the carbon tax is being transformed into a tax on the consumption of carbon-intensive products. This tax is progressive a priori and synchronizes the goals of reducing emissions and fighting poverty and inequality. This is opening the road to inclusive low-carbon development in the BRICS countries.

The proposed move to calculating consumption-based emissions will not be easy. It may be described as a paradigm shift that requires strong political will. The traditional approaches are based on an almost 30 year history of Western countries building the international climate regime. But this history has been one of disappointment for the most part. The BRICS countries have always wanted the global governance system to better reflect their interests and distinguishing features. However, it is important to go beyond criticizing Western-centric institutions to formulating what the world order should look like. This is the right time to take this step on the climate agenda.
Understanding BRICS, WHO and COVID-19 (Разбираемся в БРИКС, ВОЗ и COVID-19) / Greece, April, 2020
Keywords: expert_opinion, social_issues, covid-19
Author: Kester Kenn Klomegah

The World Health Organization (WHO), established to tackle global health problems, is mobilizing for additional funds to overcome coronavirus which it declared pandemic late January 2020.

The coronavirus pandemic has, undoubtedly, changed the ways of life, impacted on the capacities of health infrastructure and has disrupted the economic supply value chain with attendant negative impact on global economies. As the world grapples with the challenges of the coronavirus, there is a need for solidarity, unity of purpose and better coordination to overcome this common enemy.

In order to find long-term and sustainable solutions to the pandemic, WHO has been collaborating with the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and regional organizations such as African Union, G20 and BRICS. Besides, there is a strong cooperation in the format Russia-India-China (RIC). It is also making ways through bilateral and multilateral mechanisms.

Foreign countries are contributors to the functioning of World Health Organization. For example, U.S. is the single largest funder of the organization, providing more than $400 million each year – about 15% of its total budget. WHO has come under criticisms. Many countries especially the United States and Britain, believe that WHO's reluctance to confront China over its handling of the coronavirus outbreak is the reason it has now become a pandemic.

As the world leaders pledged to accelerate work on tests, drugs and vaccines against COVID-19 and to share them around the globe, the United States stayed away from an initiative launched on April 24 by the World Health Organization.

According to Reuters report, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa were among those who joined a video conference to launch what the WHO billed as a "landmark collaboration" to fight the pandemic. Leaders from Asia, the Middle East and the Americas also joined the videoconference, but several big countries did not participate, including China, India and Russia.

The aim is to speed development of safe and effective drugs, tests and vaccines to prevent, diagnose and treat COVID-19, the lung disease caused be the novel coronavirus – and ensure equal access to treatments for both rich and poor. "We are facing a common threat which we can only defeat with a common approach," WHO Director General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said as he opened the virtual meeting.

South African leader Cyril Ramaphosa is the chair of the African Union. Currently, Russia holds the rotating chair of BRICS. BRICS is also coordinating efforts of its members to help in finding solution to COVID-19. Russia, India and China are in very strong positions in the group or association. China and India have huge population. Despite its vast territory, Russia's population is slightly higher than Japan in the Pacific Ocean.

China, a leading global player with worldwide business footprint, said it would donate a further $30 million to the World Health Organization, which is seeking more than $1 billion to fund its battle against the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 180,000 people worldwide. "At this crucial moment, supporting WHO is supporting multilateralism and global solidarity," Hua Chunying, spokeswoman of China's Foreign Ministry, said on Twitter.

The donation aimed to support the global fight against COVID-19, in particular strengthening health systems in developing countries, she said, adding that China had already donated $20 million to the WHO on March 11.

According to an executive decree posted to Kremlin's website, Russia will contribute $1 million to the World Health Organization (WHO) to fight the coronavirus. "Allocate budget funding of $1 million from the federal budget for one-time voluntary contribution to the World Health Organization for coronavirus infection fight measures implementation," the document reads.

The same decree earmarks about $804,795 to fund expenses of the Vector Institute and the Central Research Institute of Epidemiology, "connected to production and shipment of tools for laboratory diagnosis of the novel coronavirus infection, and material and technical support to countries of Eastern Europe, Trans-Caucasus, Central and Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa and South America."

As stipulated by the guidelines, Russia assumed the rotating presidency of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) regional association since January, 2020. BRICS has established as a multilateral structure, and as reliable association pushing for fair, democratic and multipolar world order.

Russia continues to expand strategic partnership of the organization, working on strengthening foreign policy coordination on various multilateral platforms. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov heads the foreign ministers of the BRICS association of countries. On April 28, this group plans to hold an extraordinary videoconference to exchange opinions on possible joint measures to oppose the coronavirus pandemic.

"At Russia's initiative, the foreign policy chiefs of the BRICS countries will hold an extraordinary conference in a video format under Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's chairmanship on April 28," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The foreign ministers will "focus on aspects of the influence of the crisis prompted by the outbreak of the coronavirus infection on international relations. The ministers will exchange opinions on possible joint measures the five countries could take to oppose Covid-19 and address the financial, trade-economic, and social consequences of the pandemic," the statement said.

"The parties will also consider relevant aspects of the development of a five-sided strategic partnership, including a calendar of events during Russia's presidency of the BRICS this year," it said.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said during an online launch of the Moscow-based Higher School of Economics' report on Russia's foreign policy, "Our organization keeps an eye on the fight against COVID-19. Russia considers various aspects of the issue during its chairmanship of BRICS. Health experts maintain contacts. We will also consider various political aspects of the situation within BRICS."

The Russian diplomat added that BRICS was an appropriate platform for such cooperation, "given the scientific capabilities of its members, particularly in the fields of healthcare and pharmaceutical industry." "Each of the countries is making its own contribution to these efforts. We will bring it all together during our chairmanship so that at the end of the year we can say that BRICS has made another step forward," Ryabkov emphasized.

On April 23, TASS report said that BRICS member states could increase their funding of the World Health Organization and expand medical cooperation with other states due to the US decision to withdraw its contributions to the organization.

"A few days ago, the US announced that it would withdraw or suspend funding of the World Health Organization. BRICS states could make a statement, in which they would announce their increased contributions to this organization that plays a central role in the global anti-pandemic governance," according to Dmitry Suslov, deputy head of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies of the Higher School of Economics National Research University. "BRICS states could announce further coordination in their approaches to aiding other states, states with weaker healthcare systems than those of BRICS states."

The expert stressed that the spread of the disease in less developed countries would threaten the security of BRICS member states. Suslov, however, noted that BRICS is interested in strengthening the healthcare system in such states.

Cui Zheng, deputy head of the Research Center for the Economies and Politics of Transitional Countries at Liaoning University, expressed a similar opinion. He noted that China actively helps their partners within BRICS to combat the novel coronavirus pandemic.

"The most important thing for us is international cooperation within BRICS. The member states have clearly stated their solidarity, uniting in the fight against the coronavirus," the expert stated. "Not only do China and Russia actively help each other, they are supplying materials needed to combat the coronavirus to other states."

While coronavirus is currently the urgent task, reiterating here that, besides all, the BRICS is interested in increasing financial and economic cooperation among the participating countries, effective industrial interaction and practical cooperation in developing and implementing new joint energy, telecommunications and high-tech projects.

The coronavirus disease appeared first in 2019 in Wuhan city in China. The disease was, first identified in Wuhan and Hubei, both in China early December 2019. The original cause still unknown, it remains a puzzle and an enigma for the world scientific community. Since then, cases of the novel coronavirus – named COVID-19 by the WHO – have spread around the world.

According to the latest statistics, over 2,700,000 people have been infected worldwide and more than 191,000 deaths have been reported. In addition, so far, over 750,000 individuals have recovered from the illness across the globe.

The BRICS member countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) collectively represent about 26% of the world's geographical area and are home to 3.6 billion people, about 42% of the world's population and a combined nominal GDP of $16.6 trillion.

BRICS: A Spirit of Cohesion in an Era of Rivalry (БРИКС: дух сплоченности в эпоху соперничества) / Russia, April, 2020
Keywords: expert_opinion, covid-19

"The present crisis has highlighted the urgent need to improve the global governance system, and in this situation, the BRICS have set an example of mutual assistance, cooperation, support and responsible behaviour, without manifesting a 'friend or foe' logic," said Pavel Knyazev, Deputy Director of the Department of Foreign Policy Planning of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, during an online presentation of the Valdai Club's new report, titled "BRICS and the Rivalry Pandemic".

The representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spoke about specific measures being taken by the BRICS countries in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. These include the financial anti-crisis assistance provided by the New Development Bank, work on an early warning mechanism for outbreaks of infection, the development of diagnostic and preventive measures for the disease, as well as joint epidemiological exercises. Knyazev expressed confidence that "the upcoming 12th BRICS summit in St. Petersburg will be successful and will embody the strategic partnership and the spirit of cohesion."

Viktoriya Panova, Academic Supervisor of the BRICS Russia Organising Committee Expert Council, stressed that against the background of other international institutions, the BRICS association "looks more advantageous and humane". In her speech, she paid special attention to strategies for jointly overcoming the vulnerabilities that have been exposed by the pandemic: they include the development of inaccessible rural and urban areas, the use of technology for the common good and the prevention of protectionism. "We will come out of this year with new ideas and stronger ones," the expert said.

Dmitry Suslov, Deputy Director and Research Fellow at the Centre for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs at the Higher School of Economics, emphasised three points that should become the main ones underpinning unification amid the current situation: strengthening multilateralism in global governance, the democratisation of politics and dialogue with third players, including within the framework of the BRICS+ format, as well as the fight against the pandemic and assistance to other countries.

This multifaceted agenda was also supported by Cui Zheng, Deputy Director of the Research Centre for the Economies and Politics of Transitional Countries at Liaoning University. The Club's guest pointed to the relationship between supporting the economy and establishing a world order based on rules and solidarity.

In the final analysis, Timofei Bordachev, programme director of the Valdai Club and moderator of the discussion, noted that from the perspective of Russia's BRICS presidency, the pandemic presents both a challenge and an opportunity to implement new projects and demonstrate unity. However, the specific content of this possibility still remains to be determined more clearly.

Comprehensive reports, BRICS research materials
BRICS and the Rivalry Pandemic (БРИКС и пандемия соперничества) / Russia, April, 2020
Keywords: expert_opinion,research,covid-19

The BRICS community of nations did not come out of nowhere. The luminaries of international consulting (one of them, Goldman Sachs analyst Jim O'Neill, coined the BRIC acronym) come up with brilliant new ideas on an almost daily basis, but only a few of them get the attention of the statesmen steering the foreign policy and development of their countries. However, it would be wrong to credit O'Neill alone for the formation of most authoritative non-western association of countries.

After all, the foundation of BRICS was laid back in the mid-1990s by the foreign minister and later prime minister of Russia Yevgeny Primakov. It was then that the concept of diversifying Russia's foreign policy – the political triangle comprising Russia, India and China (RIC) – was formulated, and efforts were also made to bolster our country's interaction with Latin America. For Goldman Sachs and the rest, the BRIC product was just a marketing ploy that created a collective image of the developing or transitioning economies with the greatest investment potential.

As a result, non-western powers began to form their own institutions to promote their common interests and increase the international weight of each individually. BRICS was the main such institution.
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