Information Bulletin of the BRICS Trade Union Forum

Monitoring of the economic, social and labor situation in the BRICS countries
Issue 35.2022
2022.08.29 — 2022.09.04
International relations
Foreign policy in the context of BRICS
Argentina and the BRICS: Port in a Storm or Geopolitical Launching Pad? (Аргентина и БРИКС: порт во время шторма или геополитическая стартовая площадка?) / USA, August, 2022
Keywords: political_issues, expert_opinion

Argentina is in trouble, and the recent appointment of Sergio Massa as superministro in charge of running the economy was just the latest effort by President Alberto Fernández to put the house in order. That does not mean that Argentina is not in heavy international demand. In recent months, it participated as a guest in two of the top summits on the diplomatic calendar – the G7 in Schloss Elmau, Germany, and the virtual BRICS summit hosted by Beijing.

In fact, rumor has it that Argentina may be invited to join the BRICS, a bloc made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa that has gathered since 2009 and come to symbolize the realignment of global economic and political power. Argentina would expand the BRICS' footprint in the Western Hemisphere, adding South America's second-largest economy to its ranks.

Rumor has it that Argentina may be invited to join the BRICS, a bloc made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa."

Given the lack of coverage of the BRICS in the Western media, it might be easy to dismiss the expansion of the BRICS with a shrug. Who cares whether Argentina joins another Third World talk shop? As long as Argentina struggles to pay its debts and inflation runs rampant, its troubles will never end, or so the thinking goes.

However, there is another way to look at Argentina's potential BRICS membership. The natural and human riches of Argentina are such that, no matter how much it stumbles, there will always be foreign investors willing to bankroll it. Thus, with the return of great power competition as the main driver of international relations, the real question is which way Argentina will tilt as U.S.-China tensions increase and Buenos Aires is squeezed from both sides.

The real question is which way Argentina will tilt as U.S.-China tensions increase."

This is where the BRICS come in, a fascinating story of the power of branding and the Western media's blind spot for the currents of change buffeting the Southern Hemisphere. BRICS – an acronym improbably coined by the British banker Jim O'Neill at Goldman Sachs in 2001 – excavated the spirit of a decade bookended by 9/11 and the Great Recession. Indeed, perhaps the only redeeming feature of that era might be the rise of the emerging economies of the BRICS. (Initially, the BRICs excluded South Africa, which joined the club in 2010, capitalizing the "S.")

As soon as these rising powers coalesced into a group, the sniping from Western commentators began. Critics argued that these highly diverse countries had no business getting together, and that democracies and autocracies should not be members of the same club. Especially irksome to Western analysts was the presence of Russia, seen as a declining power that did not fit the BRICS' identity. "A mere talk shop" was the kindest description of the mostly ignored bloc.

But that started to change in 2015, when the BRICS created its own bank, the New Development Bank. The upstart lender, often referred to as the "BRICS bank," is headquartered in Shanghai and has $50 billion in capital. It has made $15 billion in loans, mostly for infrastructure projects, and it is highly regarded by credit rating agencies. This capability, and the BRICS' longevity, has made the group a key reference point across the Global South.

That combination of capital and prestige has clearly got Argentina's attention. Argentina is already a member of the G-20. Were it to join the BRICS, it would get a leg up in the international hierarchy, and increased room for diplomatic maneuver.

That combination of capital and prestige has clearly got Argentina's attention."

Already, in its careful balancing of ties with both Washington (where the U.S. Treasury plays a key role in the International Monetary Fund's approach to Argentina) and Beijing (where Fernández negotiated a multibillion dollar investment package during his visit in February), Argentina is applying the principles of "active non-alignment" in its foreign policy. As a member of the BRICS, it would take this one step further, joining forces with countries that are reshaping global affairs.
Investment and Finance
Investment and finance in BRICS
Towards a Free Trade Area for the Global South (На пути к зоне свободной торговли для глобального Юга) / Russia, August, 2022
Keywords: economic_challenges, expert_opinion
Author: Yaroslav Lissovolik

The expanded format of the BRICS+ dialogue conducted by China in June 2022 as well as the rising number of large developing economies expressing willingness to join the BRICS core grouping sets the scene for more ambitious steps directed at strengthening South-South economic cooperation.

At the same time, rising protectionism across the global economy, looming risks of stagflation and the division lines emerging along the Global North-South axis raise the expediency of greater economic openness and trade liberalization among the developing economies. An ambitious goal in advancing such South-South cooperation may be the creation of a free trade area (FTA) for the Global South economies with particular care accorded to the needs of the vulnerable developing nations, including the world's least developed countries (LDCs).

The attainment of such an ambitious goal as the creation of a Global South FTA will not be possible in a single stroke – it will most likely necessitate an assembly process that involves time and sequencing. In terms of the mechanics and technology of assembly, the "integration of integrations" of the existing regional free trade agreements of the Global South may prove to be the most effective operational framework. Such an approach may allow for an integration among all of the main three pan-continental platforms of the developing world: Africa + Latin America + Asia/Eurasia. Accordingly, one possible abbreviation for the Global South FTA could be "Triple AAA FTA" that denotes the tripartite alliance between the developing economies of Africa, America and Asia. In terms of sequencing, it may be expedient to start the construction of a South – South FTA with the smaller continental platforms, increasing the scale of integration with every following step of the assembly process.

The first pan-continental free trade area in the developing world has been achieved in Africa with the launching of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). This step, in effect, allowed for the creation of a framework for co-integrating the numerous regional integration arrangements on the African continent. The next possible step towards a pan-continental free trade area could be observed in the coming years in Latin America, where regional conditions are improving for continental initiatives to be advanced.

The next stage in progressing towards a free-trade area for the Global South would be to link up the pan-continental free trade arrangements in Africa and Latin America. The two pan-continental blocs are broadly similar in terms of the size of GDP – in 2021 Africa's GDP totaled around USD 2.7 trn, while for South America's 12 economies the total in 2021 was around USD 3.25 trn. Furthermore, there is already a track-record of Africa-Latin America cooperation in the sphere of "integration of integrations" via the signing of a preferential trade agreement between MERCOSUR and the South African Customs Union (SACU) in 2008-2009 – the trade deal entered into force in April 2016.

In recent years links between Latin America's regional organizations and Africa have further strengthened. On 7 September 2021, leaders from the African Union and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) convened the 1st Africa CARICOM Summit.

Furthermore, in 2021 in the context of Argentina's Presidency Pro Tempore, MERCOSUR and the African Union undertook steps to boost bilateral relations between the two regional blocs. In particular, "the Secretary for International Economic Relations, Jorge Neme, chaired the first Mercosur-African Union Meeting, aimed at strengthening relations between the blocs, renewing political ties, further reinforcing cooperation mechanisms and fostering economic relations".

The more complicated steps will involve the incorporation of Asia, most notably China, into the common South-South FTA platform. The difficulty emanates from the fragmentation of the regional integration patterns in Asia as well as the asymmetries in terms of size: Asia accounts for over 80% of the Global South total GDP, while China alone accounts for well over a third of the total economic mass of the Global South. Another factor is competitiveness: China exerts a competitive edge in a wide range of industries compared to its Global South peers, making the prospect of free trade more difficult to digest politically and economically. One possible option in attenuating these competitive pressures may be to precede the FTA with a preferential trade agreement across the South-South platform that does not involve the creation of a full-scale trade liberalization in the very near term, but rather a sequential, step-wise lifting of barriers in key priority sectors. There will also be a need to include provisions that protect the interests and needs of the least developed economies of the Global South.

Estimates from the United Nations ESCAP suggest that the potential dividends from the creation of a South-South FTA may be substantial – "such a scenario would enhance South-South trade significantly. Most of the South countries would experience rise in export to other South countries". One of the possible guides in this respect may be the progression of the AfCFTA project – according to the estimates of the World Bank, "by 2035 the AfCFTA is set to lift 30 million Africans out of extreme poverty and 68 million from moderate poverty". A more recent study by the World Bank finds that "under deep integration, Africa's exports to the rest of the world could rise by 32% by 2035, while intra-African exports could grow by 109%, led by manufactured goods".

The platform for a comprehensive FTA across the Global South may be based on the BRICS+ framework whose evolution since 2017 is increasingly geared towards bringing together the main regional integration blocs from the Global South. The BRICS+ summit and the foreign ministers' BRICS+ meeting in 2022 brought together developing economies that represented regional blocs such as the African Union, CELAC, SCO, GCC and ASEAN – this in effect was the widest outreach exercise covering the vast majority of the Global South and representing a platform that could prove instrumental in advancing greater economic openness across the developing world. In particular, going forward the BRICS+ summits could be complemented by official discussions of the progress achieved in South-South economic integration as well as the signing of key trade/investment accords related to the building of a comprehensive South-South economic cooperation platform.

The key factor that renders the creation of a South-South FTA feasible and in fact expedient is the high degree of undertrading along the "South-South" axis compared to the potential based on distance and respective country GDP levels (indications of the gravity model). Another factor is the "integration gap" – namely the significantly lower scale and quality of integration in the developing world compared to the advanced economies. The South-South FTA accordingly could serve to bridge this gap and foster "catch-up integration" or "integration convergence" vis-à-vis the developed world.

In the process of such "integration convergence" the evolution of the assembly process of a Global South FTA will need to be flexible in allowing for plurilateral trade accords to be incorporated into the common South-South platform . The common South-South platform should also be innovative and in sync with global trends – there will be a need to devise provisions governing South-South cooperation and integration in the digital sphere (most notably in e-commerce) as well as in areas pertaining to environment and economic sustainability.

In the end, an FTA across the wide expanse of the Global South is an undertaking that is well worth pursuing in light of the greater momentum towards trade cooperation in the developing world and the protectionist measures introduced by advanced economies. A South-South FTA will significantly boost economic growth and consumption across the developing world without excessive competitive pressures emanating from the developed economies. It will also contribute to global economic expansion in view of the significant scope for trade liberalization in the Global South as well as the sizeable economic growth potential in the developing world. A common platform for dialogue and trade will also facilitate other Global South initiatives, including the creation of new international reserve currencies and payment systems. Finally, greater economic integration across the Global South should also be conducive to a more constructive pattern of North-South economic cooperation.
BRICS New Development Bank: A Second Bretton Woods or a New Trend with its Own Future? (Новый банк развития БРИКС: второй Бреттон-Вудский договор или новый тренд со своим будущим?) / Russia, September, 2022
Keywords: ndb

The main institutions of the Bretton Woods system, which have existed since the Second World War, are rapidly losing their economic weight. At this time, key actors in the developing world are coming to the fore, calling into question the out-dated rules of the game, including the hegemony of the West. Instead of destroying the legacy of the last century, they offer an alternative economic system where each player is able to influence important decisions at the international level.

The idea of building an alternative reality was the result of attempts by the West to transfer dominance in the political sphere to the economy: the Bretton Woods International Monetary Fund and the World Bank began to put forward political demands when providing loans to the countries of the Global South. The BRICS countries, who do not agree with this practice, have proposed their own concept for building the future of financial stability - the New Development Bank (NDB).

The main catalyst for the creation of the New Development Bank was the shift to the emerging market countries within existing international financial institutions (see Table 1). Insignificant voting shares among the representatives of the developing world in international economic organisations brushed aside the hopes of the BRICS member states to build a world financial architecture within Bretton Woods institutions independently of the political landscape and economic potential of the country. In fact, the lack of chances for developing countries to have a real impact on the process of making key decisions reduces their participation in international organisations to a zero-sum game: in any case, the opposite side would be in a winning position.

The New Development Bank demonstrates an alternative approach to the distribution of voting shares of developing countries: the BRICS strategy assumes partnership on the basis of equality, regardless of the country's economic potential.

Unlike the development bank created by the BRICS countries, traditional international development banks do not have the necessary capabilities to meet the rapidly growing demand for investment in infrastructure projects, primarily from developing countries, where demand is estimated by experts at $1-2.3 trillion. The vast majority of international development banks were created in an era when the developed countries of Europe dominated alongside the United States and Japan. It differed significantly from the current political realities, which are based on a progressive movement towards multi-polarity. So, the ability of international development banks to respond to the growing needs of the economies of the developing world every year raises more and more doubts.

The New Development Bank, on the contrary, has confirmed its effectiveness in the face of global challenges: the Bank's operational activities to combat the coronavirus pandemic ensured a relatively soft landing for the economies of the five countries, even in the most acute phase of the Covid crisis. Thus, the Bank allocated more than $9 billion to finance government programmes to restore the economy, which significantly mitigated the effects of the crisis and facilitated adaptation to the new post-pandemic realities. The provision of anti-crisis loans by the Bank and the calculation of the risks associated with the pandemic piqued the interest of nations that are not members of the BRICS. In particular, Bangladesh, Egypt, Uruguay and the United Arab Emirates became members of the Bank. This expansion confirms the commitment of the NDB's strategy as a leading development vehicle for emerging economies.

As the lobbying of Western interests by the Bretton Woods institutions continues amid the current distribution of votes of the member countries of these organisations, the effective activity of the New Development Bank tips the scales in favour of supporting developing countries and shows great prospects for transforming into a full-fledged platform for expanding economic and financial cooperation. In May 2022, the Board of Governors of the Bank adopted a rather ambitious Development Strategy for the 2022-2026 period; the priorities outlined by the Strategy can be reduced to five main categories of the Bank's activity.

Development of settlements in national currencies

The local currency funding initiative is primarily aimed at reducing reliance on the US dollar and other international settlement currencies. The coordination of efforts in this area will contribute to raising the international status of the national currencies of the NDB member states, preclude currency risks and greatly facilitate mutual trade between the BRICS countries.

New Development Bank Membership Expansion

In 2021, the Bank opened its doors to four new member countries and will follow a similar strategy in the future in order to expand the geography of the infrastructure projects it finances. In order to make the development of the Bank more dynamic, it is desirable to involve countries with high credit ratings and large reserves in its activities. In this regard, the eyes of the Bank's member countries are especially focused on Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia and Thailand; the expansion of cooperation with them will make the association more representative. The entry of other regional leaders is also beneficial for the New Development Bank: in Latin America one candidate is Argentina, in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is a candidate.

The NDB beyond economic and financial cooperation

Every year the New Development Bank is gaining geopolitical weight, displacing the traditional concept of the superiority of developed economies on the world stage. As the Bank's capacity grows, the need to expand the scope of its activities is increasingly felt: from economics, the Bank's member countries are shifting their focus to discussing a broader agenda. A striking example of the revision of priorities in the direction of responding to global challenges is the Bank's desire to finance projects in the field of food and energy security, climate change, and healthcare. The latter has firmly entered the agenda: voices supporting the creation of a BRICS Medical Association are growing louder and louder. The high level of dynamism with which the association is developing clearly demonstrates its potential to consolidate the efforts of the member countries: expanding the scope of the Bank's activities will benefit everyone.

Raising the profile of sustainable development and green projects

Against the backdrop of the increasing importance of the environmental agenda in international realities, the green initiatives of the New Development Bank are becoming clearer: funding for green projects is rapidly gaining momentum. In 2016, the NDB placed its first issue of "green bonds" on the Chinese interbank market; the amount totalled 3 billion yuan, the income from the issue was allocated to support the environmental initiatives of the member countries of the association. Thanks to such initiatives, the movement towards the implementation of the sustainable development goals has been effectively continued: the NDB provided a loan to China to finance three projects related to green energy, and most recently it announced support for the Russian BRICS Clean Rivers initiative. In the foreseeable future, a consolidation of efforts to promote the green initiatives of new members of the Bank is expected. Thus, the United Arab Emirates, which confirmed its commitment to the sustainable development agenda, and Al Husseini, the representative of the country, declared the priority of ecology in the framework of multilateral cooperation. At the next meetings, the NDB may approve the allocation of funds for Uruguay's green hydrogen project, which confirms the NDB's priority within the environmental agenda for many years to come.

Building partnerships with the private sector

In order to implement the aforementioned initiatives, the New Development Bank is likely to resort to more active engagement with the private sector in the future. Attempts to coordinate the activity of the business structures of the association were made back in 2019, during the year of the presidency of Brazil, whose President proclaimed the deepening of business partnership for global development. Three years later, in 2022, such initiatives have received approval from the participating countries: at the 7th annual meeting of the Board of Governors of the New Development Bank, Brazil's delegation noted the potential for the convergence of the business structures of BRICS members to finance infrastructure projects. Already, the NDB has all the necessary conditions for intensifying such cooperation, so an increase in the role of the private sector may take place in the near future.

The New Development Bank is only at the beginning of its journey to create meaningful alternatives to the Bretton Woods institutions. According to analysts, by 2026 the New Development Bank will expand its total package of approved loans to $60 billion: such ambitious forecasts among experts indicate that the Bank is on the right track. The purpose of this path is the global mission of the NDB - to increase the confidence of the developed world in developing countries in the global economy and a clear demonstration that emerging markets are becoming a real force to be reckoned with.
World of Work
2022 BRICS Film Festival Held Successfully (Кинофестиваль БРИКС 2022 прошел успешно) / China, September, 2022
Keywords: social_issues

The 2022 BRICS Film Festival was held successfully in late July.

The BRICS Film Festival, launched in 2016, is hosted by the rotating presidency of the BRICS countries every year to enhance cultural exchanges and mutual understanding among the BRICS countries through films. The jury panel of the festival is composed of well-known filmmakers recommended by each BRICS member country. This year's jury president is Su Xiaowei, Chinese screenwriter and vice chairperson of the China Film Association. Jury members include Thandi Davids (film producer) from South Africa, llda Santiago (film curator and programmer) from Brazil, Nina Kochelyaeva (film scholar and producer) from Russia and Nila Madhab Panda (film director and producer) from India.

During the 2022 BRICS Film Festival, China, South Africa, Brazil, Russia, and India brought their representative and outstanding films to the competition and screening. Through jury deliberation, the awarding results of the 2022 BRICS Film Festival are as follows:


Best Director : Alexey Pimanov for ELEVEN SILENT MEN (Russia)

Best Actor : Rômulo Braga in SOL (Brazil)

Best Actress : Zikhona Bali in THANDO (South Africa)

Special Jury Award : APARAJITO (India)

Online themed forums were held on related themes such as film talent cultivation, film exchange and project cooperation in the BRICS countries. The five jury members from China, South Africa, Brazil, Russia and India participated in the discussion as honored guests.

Six film festival institutions from five BRICS countries, signed the Letter of Intent for Film Festival Collaboration of BRICS Countries. Films festivals of the BRICS countries, namely Shanghai International Film Festival, Beijing International Film Festival, Durban International Film Festival, Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival, Moscow International Film Festival, and International Film Festival of India, reached consensus on exchanges and cooperation. They will encourage mutual visits, recommend films to participate in each of these festivals, and host BRICS-themed film exhibitions.
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