Information Bulletin of the BRICS Trade Union Forum

Monitoring of the economic, social and labor situation in the BRICS countries
Issue 40.2023
2023.10.02 — 2023.10.08
International relations
Foreign policy in the context of BRICS
Iran's BRICS membership: "Hello to the new world"? (Членство Ирана в БРИКС: «Привет, новый мир»?) / India, October, 2023
Keywords: brics+

At the 15th annual BRICS Summit held in Johannesburg, South Africa, on 22–24 August 2023, six new members were admitted into the bloc from 2024 onwards: Argentina, Ethiopia, and four states from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, namely Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Iran. With this set of new members, BRICS is tilting toward an authoritarian bloc, since the bulk of its new members, especially those from the MENA region are autocratic regimes.

According to reports, more than 40 states had expressed interest in joining the BRICS grouping. It was established in 2009 as BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China), and became BRICS a year later when South Africa joined the grouping. In his address, the host, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, stressed: "Together, the BRICS countries make up a quarter of the global economy, they account for a fifth of global trade and are home to more than 40 percent of the world's population. As we celebrate the 15th anniversary of BRICS, trade between BRICS countries totalled some [US] $162 billion last year. […] Total annual foreign direct investment into BRICS countries is four times greater than it was 20 years ago." On his part, China's President Xi Jinping said that this expansion constitutes a starting point for cooperation between members, markedly strengthening BRICS's collaborative mechanism and bolstering world peace and development.

It was initially planned that BRICS would first develop a mechanism for admitting new members; thus, the announced additions before this mechanism could be set up seems to have come as a spontaneous move.

With the new additions, the bloc will be representing half of the global population. Also, the extended group that may be labelled "BRICS+"/ "BRICS plus" from next year on will include the world's largest hydrocarbon energy consumer—China—and the world's largest energy producer—Saudi Arabia.

A core topic during the Summit was the bloc's aspiration towards de-dollarisation, which was recently affirmed by the head of the New Development Bank (NDB)— BRICS's "central bank"— former Brazilian President, Dilma Rousseff, in an interview with China's state broadcaster CCTV.

In fact, it was initially planned that BRICS would first develop a mechanism for admitting new members; thus, the announced additions before this mechanism could be set up seems to have come as a spontaneous move. Put differently, the admissions were reportedly pushed by individual states; for instance, Egypt's admission was pushed by fellow African state South Africa, and Iran by Russia and perhaps China.

This article will focus on the admission of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the latter's motivation to gain access to the BRICS bloc, Iranian receptions, as well as implications thereof.

Iran's admission into BRICS

It is widely assumed that Tehran's membership was pushed by Moscow and at least welcomed by Beijing, in a bid to strengthen their abilities to circumvent United States (US)-led sanctions, in particular, and pressure, in general.

For Iran, the upcoming BRICS membership is a propaganda success par excellence for several reasons: Firstly, it fortifies Tehran's stated goal to become an integral part of a non-Western, new world order primarily led by China and Russia, while strengthening its view that the West is in ultimate decline. Secondly, through the admission, Iran can proclaim that it continues to be successful in withstanding US pressure, without having to offer concessions to Washington or the West. For Tehran, as a result of both elements, admission into BRICS is a powerful confirmation of its "Look to the East" geopolitical outlook and, in this vein, of its confrontational stance vis-à-vis the West.

Tehran would not have to concede on its nuclear programme nor meet international standards regarding terrorism financing and money laundering.

This view is reflected in the reactions from Iranian officials and major regime outlets. President Ebrahim Raisi stated that his country's integration into the bloc signifies a historical achievement. In Iran, the ultra-fundamentalist daily paper Kayhan featured the news on the front cover, with the title "Without JCPOA and FATF: Iran's BRICS Membership is a Shot at U.S. Sanctions". In other words, Tehran would not have to concede on its nuclear programme nor meet international standards regarding terrorism financing and money laundering. Meanwhile, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-affiliated Javan daily's first-page reaction reinforced the Iranian leadership's perception of an emerging global order: "Hello to the New World" (Salâm bar jahân-e jadid).

What remains certain is that Tehran views the BRICS membership as another foreign policy success after 1) its full membership into the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) this July; 2) the China-mediated détente with regional rival Saudi Arabia this past March; 3) the deal with Washington involving the unfreezing of US$10 billion of frozen Iranian assets; and 4) the concomitant certainty that it won't have to fear substantial costs from the West even as it brutally cracks down on anti-regime protests at home or rapidly advances its nuclear programme.

Potential complications

On paper, the BRICS expansion constitutes a milestone towards elevating the grouping's geoeconomic and geopolitical standing, thus marking a significant qualitative shift towards the creation of a non-Western, multipolar world order.

Despite the triumphalism surrounding the BRICS's expansion as well as Iran's admission, there are potential complications towards a linear development of a non-Western world order. First, even in Iran, there is scepticism towards the rosy scenarios offered by the regime. For instance, Iran's reformist daily Ham-Mihan published an interview with Tehran University international relations professor Alireza Soltani, who argued against the notion that Iran's economic and developmental challenges would be resolved solely through BRICS membership. He emphasised that the belief in such a notion is misplaced and unrealistic, stating that BRICS involvement will not singlehandedly tackle the complex woes that Tehran faces. In fact, this argument is based on the realisation that without Western sanctions relief and an improvement of relations with the West, Iran's economic crisis cannot be sufficiently resolved within an international banking and financial system still dominated by the US.

Iran's reformist daily Ham-Mihan published an interview with Tehran University international relations professor Alireza Soltani, who argued against the notion that Iran's economic and developmental challenges would be resolved solely through BRICS membership.

Second, BRICS is no NATO or European Union (EU), as it lacks formal organisation—a proper charter, a secretariat, an established criteria for membership, and procedures on expansion; for a long time, it didn't even have a functioning website.

Third, given the experience with the development of BRIC(S) since its inception a decade-and-a-half ago, there is no guarantee that the group's lofty aspirations will materialise, be it regarding the redistribution of geoeconomic and geopolitical power or intra-BRICS(+) trade.

Fourth, Iranian foreign policy officials have stated that Tehran's BRICS membership will render the revitalisation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and similar concessions with the West superfluous. Yet, given that, on 20 August, China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi advised his Iranian counterpart to pursue "the full and effective implementation of the JCPOA", Tehran cannot easily shelve this agreement.The Iranian leadership has demonstrated a strategic resolve to diminish the urgency of the JCPOA's revival in Tehran. This perspective has developed due to a growing perception that Western pressures, particularly the US sanctions, lack the ability to change the behaviour of the Iranian state. In the immediate context, joining BRICS could bolster this perception, signifying that the Islamic Republic has attained an elevated level of resistance to the imposed political and economic pressure by the West.

Outlook and implications

In the short term, Iran's prospective membership of BRICS could serve as a catalyst for the regime to bolster its relations with Russia and China. This is because Iran is viewing its membership of BRICS as a tangible outcome of its "Look to the East" strategy.

In the case of China, this membership could lead Iran to provide Beijing with greater concessions and discounts on Iranian oil and enticing incentives for Chinese enterprises to engage with and invest in the Iranian market. In the case of Russia, Tehran may express heightened interest in fostering deeper military collaboration with Moscow and proposing initiatives that counter the isolation imposed by Western powers. An example of such a venture is the planned North–South Corridor—a railway route designed to connect Russia to the Indian Ocean through Iran.

Iran's achievement is subject to the extent to which the White House is willing to intensify sanctions and augment its deterrent measures against Iran.

Therefore, Iran would stand to gain notable political advantages at the expense of Western interests in the short-term. However, short-term economic benefits are more challenging as the circumvention of sanctions remains an obstacle. Overall, in the short term, Iran's achievement is subject to the extent to which the White House is willing to intensify sanctions and augment its deterrent measures against Iran. The current trajectory under the Biden administration appears to be favourable to Tehran.

Furthermore, the diversity of BRICS+ members will weigh heavily on whether the bloc will be able to achieve its tall aspirations. Most importantly, there may an intra-group conflict emerging between those member-states seeking a confrontation with the West, especially Russia, China, and Iran, and those seeking co-existence with the West—Saudi-Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Argentina.

In the longer term, Iran envisions its membership of BRICS as a means to assume a prominent role in shaping the emerging global order. The Islamic Republic seeks to amplify BRICS's collective opposition to Western powers, facilitating a revisionist stance within the bloc. Although major BRICS members exhibit an interest in a new and redefined global order, the recent expansion challenges this aspiration. The group now encompasses diverse actors with dissimilar political and economic indicators, including significant competitive dynamics among some members. In light of these complexities, it becomes an intricate endeavour for BRICS to establish a central and cohesive role in reshaping the global order. As a result, it poses a threat to the desired world order for the Iranian regime.

The Islamic Republic seeks to amplify BRICS's collective opposition to Western powers, facilitating a revisionist stance within the bloc.

Moreover, given the volatility of Middle East geopolitics, it cannot be excluded that major rifts would re-appear between major regional powers. For instance, the Iranian–Saudi détente may prove rather short-lived if Tehran would want to forcefully re-activate its expansive, if not aggressive, regional "Axis of Resistance" beyond a potential short-term interest to de-escalate regional geopolitics to ensure a deal with the US. Upon his 15 August visit to Baghdad, the IRGC's commander-in-chief Esmail Qaani has urged leaders within the coordination board of the Islamic resistance to "stop all military operations against the US and the global coalition forces at this time", according to an Iraqi source. In contrast, an eventual revitalisation of the Iranian-led "Axis of Resistance" may be prompted by a renewed sense of Iranian hubris given the aforementioned series of foreign policy successes and its perception of US weakness, but it may indeed jeopardise the détente with Saudi Arabia as well as alienate China that is interested in stability in the Persian Gulf region due to its energy supply needs.

Ali Fathollah-Nejad is the Founder & Director of the Center for Middle East and Global Order (CMEG) and author of the much-acclaimed Iran in an Emerging New World Order (2021).

Amin Naeni is a Ph.D. candidate and research assistant at the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation (ADI) at the Deakin University in Melbourne. He is also a Fellow at CMEG.

                Egypt's accession to BRICS: Opportunities to the African and developing countries (Вступление Египта в БРИКС: возможности для африканских и развивающихся стран) / Russia, October, 2023
                Keywords: brics+, expert_opinion

                Recently, Egypt joined the BRICS, here, we can find many upcoming next steps for China and Egypt to focus on in terms of cooperation. Egypt's accession to BRICS with China brings many opportunities and advantages, especially in terms of development, trade and investment. As one of the most important economic clusters in the world, this is an opportunity for Cairo to increase the rates of trade exchange and joint investments. Because one of the initiatives that BRICS is currently participating in is converting trade into alternative currencies as much as possible, whether national or creating a common currency, and Egypt is very interested in this matter. In addition to the importance of being in a bloc that includes China as a major power, it protects the political and economic interests of the Egyptian state and adds more cooperation and exchange of experiences. Especially with taking advantage of the BRICS trend to deal in local currencies or currencies other than the US dollar, this is a part that Cairo needs in view of the foreign exchange problem, and thus diversifying the basket of foreign currencies.

                Joining BRICS will also reduce the dollar's dominance in payments, a point that was discussed in previous BRICS summits. Especially with the increase in controversy after the rise in US interest rates and the Russian-Ukrainian war, which led to a rise in the US currency, along with the cost of goods priced in dollars, through the increased use of members' national currencies in trade and the establishment of a common payment system. The goal of creating a common currency is seen as a long-term project.

                The BRICS group succeeded, thanks to China's efforts, in establishing global economic rules that balance Western institutions. Since the founding of the BRICS group, its member states, especially Russia and China, have been seeking to develop a new economic model that would end unipolar hegemony and open the door to a new multipolar economic strategy. This is why China supported Egypt's new membership as part of the process of expanding the BRICS group with several Other developing countries.

                We find that relying in trade on other currencies, such as the Chinese yuan and the Russian ruble, will reduce the pressure on the dollar, which the state is currently experiencing great difficulties in providing, especially with the unprecedented rise of the dollar. The capital of this group is $100 billion from the member states, and there will be other additions. Therefore, it will have financing arms at the level of the world and the international economy, and from this angle, Egypt can achieve a boom in trade exchange with the rest of the member states.

                The entry of new countries into the group may change the geopolitical balances of the bloc. The BRICS countries, like China, of course, share the demand for a multipolar global economic and political balance, with China at the forefront. Among the countries vying for membership are traditionally non-aligned countries, such as Indonesia and Ethiopia. But there are also countries openly hostile to the United States and its allies, such as Iran and Venezuela.

                It is expected that the BRICS group with China will provide developing countries, especially African countries, with many advantages, as joining represents a step that will provide developing countries with enormous powers and financing channels, which will enhance the confidence of the international community and its financing institutions, as well as credit rating bodies in the economies of developing countries. Including Egypt.

                Egypt's accession, along with the African and developing countries, to the BRICS group, with China in particular, will provide a set of facilities, most notably: grants and soft loans with reduced interest, in addition to benefiting from the economic expertise of the participating countries and investment financing. The joining of many African and developing countries into various alliances will enable them to diversify their sources of income and borrowing, and it would be better for them to open up to others.

                Egypt's joining the BRICS group will contribute to securing its needs with developing countries for essential commodities such as wheat from Russia and electronic devices from India and China, as well as coffee and tea from other countries, such as: Brazil, raw materials and other coalition countries, and there will also be preferential treatment in commercial dealings with those countries considering being partners and allies within the BRICS alliance, unlike other countries.

                Therefore, Western, especially American, fears of efforts to expand BRICS membership are increasing. The most prominent Western and American fears regarding the accession and expansion of the membership of many developing countries to the BRICS membership, led by China, lie through the fear of increasing the volume of economic cooperation between the countries of the group, which will match the power of the Western blocs and contribute to removing their hegemony, which supports the directions of a multipolar global economic system. The founding countries of the BRICS group do not act from the American perspective of condescension towards developing countries, but rather they are concerned with contributing to achieving progress and development in those countries.

                The shares of the "BRICS Group" have recently risen in the media after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and several countries are looking to join a bloc that achieves a kind of economic polarity, especially with Russia searching for supportive partners in the face of Western economic sanctions, and a group of countries preferring to maintain strong relations with Moscow and the West's lack of participation in its support for Ukraine. It greatly encouraged Russia to expand the group until it turned into a tool for political pressure, especially since Russia faced international isolation in its invasion of Ukraine, and many of its friendly countries did not oppose UN resolutions condemning the invasion.

                              Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's remarks and answers to media questions following the 20th Session of the Valdai International Discussion Club, Sochi, October 2, 2023 (Выступление и ответы Министра иностранных дел С.В.Лаврова на вопросы СМИ по итогам XX заседания Международного дискуссионного клуба «Валдай», Сочи, 2 октября 2023 года) / Russia, October, 2023
                              Keywords: mofa, quotation, sergey_lavrov

                              Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's remarks and answers to media questions following the 20th Session of the Valdai International Discussion Club, Sochi, October 2, 2023

                              Today we talked about changes taking place in the international arena. This topic is the subject of the report, which was prepared for this session. It is entitled the "School-Leaving Certificate, Or the Order That Has Never Been Before." The report offers club members' assessments of the processes towards a multipolar world, reshaping international relations, as well as the emergence of new major players and their becoming conscious of the need to depend as little as possible on the existing system controlled by the West primarily in finance and trade.

                              The speculation by the Valdai Club authors in this report has much in common with the assessments we gave following the events that took place in the last six weeks. I am speaking primarily about the BRICS Summit, the East Asia Summit in Jakarta, the G20 Summit in New Delhi and the UN General Assembly High-Level Week. These trends have manifested themselves in full at these summits. The world is becoming multipolar. Countries are looking for reliable partners.

                              The expansion of BRICS is the main evidence of this. The five members that the association initially comprised have been joined by another six countries while about 20 countries are also seeking to establish special relations. BRICS is seen as a reliable partner and as a structure that will not disappoint and will help each member feel more confident. This process that we see now is important. We talked about all of this.

                              We also discussed UN reform. It must reflect the reality of a multipolar world where the West can no longer claim the role that it is seeking to maintain either fairly or otherwise. The process is underway. We are taking an active part in it.

                              Question: Increasingly more countries in Europe ban entry to motor vehicles with Russian plates. As of now, there are eight of them, with Bulgaria joining in today. What is the foreign ministry's view on these measures and can you comment on them?

                              Sergey Lavrov: All thinkable and unthinkable statements have been made on this topic. There is nothing in particular to add.

                              What strikes me most is the speed with which the outward civility has fallen away from practically all Europeans, the front they have been hiding behind in recent years, retaining not only the remnants of diplomacy but also traces of elementary ethics.

                              This is a manifestation of what is usually called Nazism – just in relation of Russians. In the same way, many other things are being done with regard to us. The Westerners say it is not only President of Russia Vladimir Putin who is to blame, but all Russians are to blame for having elected him. It is Nazism pure and simple.

                              Question: China will host the third Belt and Road Summit. What are your expectations in connection with this forum? How do you assess the implementation of this initiative?

                              Sergey Lavrov: We have most optimistic expectations. We know that events that our Chinese friends hold on their territory are always organised at the highest level.

                              I have repeatedly mentioned the fact that the Belt and Road project fits in well with the processes unfolding on the Eurasian continent with the participation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the Eurasian Economic Union, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Together, we are building transport, financial, and industrial infrastructure. These projects are quite promising.

                              Question: You have mentioned Nazism. A scandal is still raging over the Canadian Parliament honouring a former [Ukrainian] Nazi. Right now, Justin Trudeau is bending over backwards to avoid disgrace. He is also accusing Russia of spreading what he calls false propaganda about what Ukraine is fighting on the battlefield for. Do you believe that neither Trudeau, nor Zelensky, nor the Canadian MPs knew the biography of the man they gave an ovation to?

                              Sergey Lavrov: We have repeatedly commented on the episode in the Canadian Parliament. I think any sober-minded person can see that things could not be the way Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau is trying to present them. Of course, all of them knew this, including the Speaker and the security service. Yaroslav Hunka, formerly of the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Galician), is a well-known person. He has never concealed his views. Many people know him.

                              What Justin Trudeau is saying on this matter… Well, he is a pathetic sight. People nonetheless call him a prime minister. When he and Zelensky were applauding and he raised his fist, welcoming this Nazi, of course, they knew everything perfectly well.

                              The saddest thing is that Trudeau has mustered his courage and apologised. But to whom? To the Ukrainians and Zelensky, with whom they were doing the Nazi salute to that individual.

                              It is a disgrace!

                              Question: We would like to enquire about Armenia and its continuing rapprochement with Washington to the point that protesters already wave US flags at rallies.

                              Sergey Lavrov: I have repeatedly commented on this situation, as has President of Russia Vladimir Putin.

                              The decision on Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan was taken with the direct participation of Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan. Some "politicians" in Yerevan claimed that by signing the agreements on stopping the war in November 2020, Vladimir Putin forced the Armenian Prime Minister to give Nagorno-Karabakh away to Azerbaijan. But this is a lie. The Agreement of November 9, 2020 says that Nagorno-Karabakh is the responsibility zone of the Russian peacekeeping contingent. It was generally understood that the dialogue on the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh would continue.

                              In October 2022, while attending a European summit in Prague, Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan signed a document to the effect that Armenia and Azerbaijan recognised each other within their 1991 borders, in keeping with the Alma Ata Declaration (of December 21, 1991). Matter closed. Later he used that term – the 1991 Alma Ata Declaration – once again in Brussels. But the document (circulated by the European Union) does not say that Armenia is concerned with the destiny of Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh and that their destiny should be a matter of concern for everyone lest the Armenians suffer.

                              The situation being what it is, the Russian peacekeepers are doing all they can. We cannot prevent people eager to leave Nagorno-Karabakh for Russia from doing what they want. We are working with our Azerbaijani colleagues and neighbours to stabilise the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, to strengthen trust, and create conditions for the Armenians and Azerbaijanis to resume their normal life together.

                              I hope that Yerevan should also have a stake in that and will undertake efforts to this end. If, however, as certain Armenian leaders have announced, they are disappointed with Russia and the CSTO and are going to look elsewhere for "colleagues" willing to help them strengthen their security, this is their sovereign choice. The choice made by the Armenian leadership.

                              I hope that it is not up to any temporary administrations to destroy the centuries-old ties between the Russians (and other ethnic groups living in Russia) and the Armenians.

                                            BRICS+ from Above: Why the Space Dimension of the Expanded Alliance Matters (БРИКС+ сверху: почему важно космическое измерение расширенного альянса) / USA, October, 2023
                                            Keywords: brics+, expert_opinion

                                            Up until last August, there was little to link Argentina, Brazil, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Since the decision to invite new members to the BRICS alliance, analysts have been wondering what this set of countries have in common. While at vastly different stages of economic development, the 11 will often adopt the moniker of members of the loosely defined "Global South." However, where most see an amorphous grouping of countries—some formal U.S. allies and others traditional anti-Western autocracies—all have space programs and ambitions. This should not be overlooked in a context where the recent BRICS expansion can be seen as a largely symbolic move.

                                            If all invited countries officially join BRICS, new collaborative space projects among its members are certainly possible. However, the more significant impact of the expansion may be in the space governance domain. Space governance refers to the complex set of laws, regulations, and frameworks that govern the use of space at both the international and national level. It is inherently a foreign policy issue because space is not owned by any one country and the physics of space requires international coordination. BRICS members have vowed to leverage their expected heftier weight in international institutions to better address the needs of the Global South. This counterweight strategy may spill over to the space-related discussions underway in those very forums, such as on international space security in the UN First Committee. While not topping the list of priorities dominated by economic issues, space governance is important—at stake are how to manage collective challenges like space debris and whether the next wave of space exploration will take an adversarial turn.

                                            From Sputnik-1 to Chandrayaan-3 Space activities are deeply embedded into nearly every aspect of society—powering critical infrastructure like telecommunications, underpinning global financial transactions, fueling climate change research, and enabling asymmetric advantage in the military domain. Both as a power projection tool and a strategic investment to advance national goals, for countries around the world, space investments are no longer optional.

                                            There is extensive debate around the complicated question of how to categorize national space programs without imposing technological biases. Regardless of what framework is used, the space programs of the BRICS+ countries (referring to existing and invited members) span the gamut—from Russia's, responsible for the 1957 milestone that kicked off the Space Race, to Ethiopia's, whose early efforts date to the same era but did not involve satellite operations until 2019. It is impossible to give justice to the breadth of these programs in a few words, but even cherry-picking some highlights shows the permanence of space efforts.

                                            Despite dwindling investment in its space program, Russia remains a major launching state, and, along with the United States, a primary operator of the International Space Station. China operates Tiangong, the other permanently crewed station in orbit, and with its Long March rockets, came second in total launches in 2022. India's program also encompasses human spaceflight, launch, and satellite development and operation, and recently achieved the first-ever landing to the coveted lunar south pole with Chandrayaan-3.

                                            Brazil and Argentina have also had major space efforts for decades, with fits and starts. Brazil's features an extensive joint Earth observation program with China and the advantageously located Alcântara spaceport. Argentina has successfully developed indigenous satellites and continues to invest in a homegrown rocket, Tronador—albeit at a glacial pace amid recurring financial crises.

                                            Rounding out the BRICS+ group are the relative newcomers—that is, from a programmatic standpoint. (The seeds of space exploration in the Middle East can arguably be traced back to ancient astronomy.) After becoming the first Arab nation to send a probe to Mars, the UAE recently logged the longest time in space by an Arab astronaut. Saudi prince Sultan bin Salman Al Saud, the first Arab in space, is a supporter of the Saudi space program, which has also made human spaceflight a focus. South Africa is a leader in radio astronomy and hosts the only operational regional entity dedicated to space weather, intense solar activity that can impact infrastructure in space and on the ground. Egypt, in addition to hosting the newly unveiled African Space Agency, recently revamped its space agency. So did Ethiopia, which began constructing a satellite manufacturing facility in 2020. Finally, there is Iran, whose efforts center around a demonstrated launch capability and satellite development with strong ties to its military industrial complex.

                                            While scope and emphasis vary widely, many of the BRICS+ members have used space activities to deepen relationships with like-minded countries and to demonstrate autonomy on the global scale.

                                            Space on the Agenda? It would not be a surprise for space to feature on the BRICS+ agenda. In May 2022, China "officially launched" the BRICS Joint Committee on Space Cooperation, intended to enable remote sensing satellite data sharing from six operating satellites. Announced in 2021, the kickoff was seen as a response to the satellite collaboration of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (an informal alliance among the United States, Australia, India, and Japan) focused on maritime domain awareness.

                                            During the recent summit, and just before the historic lunar landing, Prime Minister Narendra Modi suggested a "BRICS space exploration consortium" during remarks at the summit.

                                            Russia and China regularly make space-related collaboration offers to countries of the Global South, such as Venezuela, emphasizing political alignment with those partners. Even when not followed by immediate concrete developments, these announcements make headlines for the soft power value of space.

                                            The vast gap between the space programs of its members makes it unlikely that BRICS+ will materialize into significant multilateral projects. The CIA World Factbook, newly updated to include national space program details, estimates China's 2022 space spending in the range of $3–10 billion. The extremely limited spending in Ethiopia and Egypt, in turn, is largely fueled by China itself.

                                            Nevertheless, the BRICS+ label could boost ongoing bilateral and "minilateral initiatives," such as the China-led International Lunar Research Station Cooperation project to establish a permanent lunar base. South Africa formally signed on to this project on the heels of the BRICS+ summit. Targeted efforts may emerge among a subset of members in areas of shared interest, like Earth observation and geospatial information, a priority for both Argentina and the UAE.

                                            The more salient shift from BRICS+, however, may manifest as shifting alliances in the ongoing space governance discussions taking place within and on the sidelines of the very forums the bloc wants to overhaul.

                                            Setting the Tone All BRICS+ countries are members of the UN Committee for the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, a central setting for space governance since the beginning of the Cold War. It was there that the international community—led by the Soviet Union and the United States as the sole space powers—agreed to the four treaties that set the foundational principles for space activities to this day. While space is decidedly not a Wild West, the adoption of new binding measures has slowed to a standstill in the last few decades. Space developments, in the meantime, have raced ahead.

                                            The urgency for new space norms is increasing. Whether in increasingly congested orbits or the resource-rich lunar south pole, conflict will arise in the not-so-limitless domain of space. The space community contains a disparate set of actors with sometimes conflicting interests, largely targeting the same locations. Major space players are vying for influence to define the new rules that will shape future activities. Emerging space nations also take part with fervor, looking to ensure their interests—whether the ability to access space-derived data today or to launch satellites tomorrow—are protected.

                                            In the polycentric space system, where the spheres of influence are occupied by multiple countries and nonstate actors alike, a diverse global community tackles governance issues in multiple environments, at the United Nations and beyond. These discussions include both binding mechanisms like national legislation and regulation, as well as non-binding ones, like best practices and guidelines. This dynamic is a driving assumption in the first U.S. Strategic Framework for Space Diplomacy released last May. The framework articulates a State Department-led effort to advance U.S. space leadership through international cooperation and the promotion of U.S. norms and policies—across all forums—to govern the responsible use of space.

                                            This is where the BRICS+ expansion may have tangible consequences on space governance, especially considering China's interests in marshalling the voting power of emerging countries in organizations like the United Nations. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to assume country positions on space governance will fall within a simple North-South divide.

                                            Hedging on Space Just last month Russia successfully prevented the Open-Ended Working Group on Reducing Space Threats (OEWG), convened by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) and chaired by a Chilean diplomat, from issuing a consensus report, the product of a two-year effort, to consider norms for military space activities. In a written statement, Russia described the draft report describing the OEWG's work as "unbalanced" and "reflecting mainly Western approaches," and described "responsible behavior" as a "non-consensual term" despite it being one around which the international community has been rallying for the last few years. This view, supported by BRICS+ allies Iran and China, was, however, not endorsed by others in the bloc that also participated in the process. Brazil and Argentina joined a majority of 39 nations in pushing for an informal summary to be provided to the UNGA so that the group's progress would not be lost.

                                            While China and Russia tend to align on space governance discussions, developments on a related front further suggest the rest of the BRICS+ may not just fall in line. Last December the UNGA took up a resolution calling on countries to not conduct tests of direct-ascent anti-satellite (DA-ASAT) weapons—involving a missile launch to intentionally disable or destroy a satellite in orbit—given the significant debris generated by such tests. Sponsored by the United States, the resolution mirrored the landmark U.S. moratorium, which multiple countries, including the European Union, have also adhered to. While China, Iran, and Russia all voted against the resolution, Egypt and the rest of the BRICS+ members voted in favor. India, the latest to conduct a DA-ASAT test, abstained.

                                            Ironically, it is the expansion of BRICS+ that reduces the risk of this alliance automatically turning anti-Western in space governance issues. Five of the countries—Brazil, India, and newcomers Argentina, UAE and Saudi Arabia—have signed on to the Artemis Accords. The accords are a nonbinding political commitment to key principles in the conduct of space activities, intended to guide space exploration to the moon and beyond. While largely seen as the U.S. answer to the slow progress in international space governance efforts, the accords have been signed by 29 countries, including Bahrain, Nigeria, and Rwanda, which are not particularly strong U.S. allies.

                                            The accords reinforce principles contained in the core space treaties—like transparency and emergency assistance—while adding others that have been widely adopted since then and that the United States prioritizes, like scientific data sharing. The accords are central to U.S. strategy to build a global coalition around democratic principles and values, which it sees as key to ensuring growing civil, military, and commercial interests in space are not threatened. As noted in the Space Diplomacy Framework, the United States "will compete where necessary against countries that seek to impose a different view of outer space governance."

                                            While signing on to the accords does not itself lead to participating in the NASA-led Artemis program to return humans to the lunar surface, the United States has made it clear the principles contained therein are fundamental to any meaningful collaboration. Six months after signing the Artemis Accords, Saudi Arabia withdrew from the Moon Treaty, a UN space law treaty not ratified by any of the major space powers and thus not considered part of the foundational agreements regulating space. The unexplained withdrawal was not a requirement to adopt the accords but was seen as symbolic gesture to resolve disagreement between the two documents.

                                            The steady progress to increase accords signatories seems to indicate this is resonating. China and Russia may thus find it challenging to sway some of the BRICS+ members to their view of things. For the BRICS+ nations with larger space programs, such as Argentina or the UAE, the win-win scenario is one where partnerships with many established space programs remain viable. The hedging strategy that is core to Brazil's foreign policy may show up just as strongly in space debates.

                                            The United States and its allies can leverage this to continue courting other space nations—even those politically aligned with Russia and China—to continue building momentum around space norms. In advocating for the Accords, the United States should also encourage countries to adopt the core treaties to further the "rules-based order" for space. Ethiopia and Egypt, for example, have yet to ratify the 1975 Registration Convention, which stipulates the registration of space objects in a public registry.

                                            It would be a mistake, however, for the United States and its allies to depend solely on alignment of values like sustainability and stewardship. China's partnerships with emerging space nations are bolstered by whole-of-government efforts, such as the Belt and Road Initiative, where scientific collaboration is often paired with infrastructure investments, loans, and other measures that meet multiple goals of the partner. Because of this, China and Russia may be successful in rallying votes—or opposition—from BRICS+ countries with small, resource-constrained space programs. For countries like Egypt and Ethiopia, the short-term gains of siding with China and Russia in space governance decisions may trump the intangible benefit of what may one day be participation in the Artemis program. While not true for all fronts in the space governance landscape, every vote counts in the United Nations, and the United States and its allies should not disregard this interplay of shifting economic-political alliances.

                                            The United States should go all in on implementing its space diplomacy framework. With space technologies tied to priorities like climate change, this means bringing in space governance to all engagements with potential partners—whether space-focused or not. While the BRICS+ expansion does not mean space governance attitudes will fall along North-South lines, China and Russia know very well how to incorporate space into broader engagement efforts, making it an attractive carrot in a strategic bargaining pitch. If BRICS+ is seen by some as a largely symbolic alliance, few issues are a better fit than space where discussions often involve ideological appeals. But leadership in space governance matters to the United States and in this environment shifting alliances like BRICS+ afford U.S. adversaries another avenue to bolster the opposition.

                                            Laura Delgado López is a visiting fellow with the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., and a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow.

                                                          False and Real International Institutions in the 21st Century (Ложные и реальные международные институты в XXI веке) / Russia, October, 2023
                                                          Keywords: expert_opinion

                                                          The establishment of international institutions is traditionally regarded by those who attempt to write seriously about world politics as among the important, if not the most important achievements of the 20th century, which otherwise left us with few good memories.

                                                          However, now that the international order has entered the phase of its most serious renewal in several hundred years, the question of these institutions' applicability in solving the most complex problems of a bilateral and multilateral nature is once again becoming extremely relevant. Moreover, modern international institutions are a continuation and part of the power politics underlying the world order with which we are dissatisfied. All of them, without exception, were the product of an adaptation of an order traditionally centred on the arbitrariness of the great powers to the demands of the second half of the last century, but not a change in the nature of this order.

                                                          That is why Russia, like the rest, has accumulated so many complaints against global and regional institutions. However, in order to separate our subjective attitude from the relatively independent side of the matter, it must be noted that institutions have been subjected to substantive criticism for a long time. On a theoretical level, critical assessments of this form of interaction between states were summarised in John Mearsheimer's excellent article, titled The False Promise of International Institutions, published shortly after the end of the Cold War. It should be noted, however, that the assessments of the leader of the realistic school of science of international relations relate, first of all, to what worries him, i.e. theses institutions' lack of influence on the behaviour of states. If we more closely inspect the causes of the current tension in international politics, then the most important thing is what Mearsheimer called into question: the (in) ability of institutions to shape the common interests of their participants.

                                                          We have had many opportunities in recent years to see how the participation of a significant group of the strongest (militarily) and most economically developed countries really shaped their common interest. This interest became, in a natural way, if not directly opposed to the desires of the rest of the international community, then it took into account such desires in the very last place. The dramatic fate of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) after the Cold War is a great illustration. The Western countries were immediately able to act within the framework of this institution with a consolidated position, which excluded even minor manifestations of justice in relation to the basic interests of others: Russia, Kazakhstan or smaller states outside the European Union and NATO.

                                                          The fact that only Russia actively opposed it is connected solely with its own capabilities and ambitions. Small countries are aware of their insignificance and vulnerability and prefer to remain silent even when their positions are humiliating. Moreover, in a number of cases, as it happens, for example, with Kazakhstan, a weak political system and total dependence on the West leave no options other than ritual adaptation to the requirements of the United States and Europe. For Russia, such an imitation model of participation in international life was suitable only at separate, very isolated stages of modern history.

                                                          In other words, the decades since the end of the Cold War have given us a wealth of examples confirming that Mearsheimer's list of problems accompanying the activities of international institutions can be extended. The necessary additions have even much more devastating consequences for international security, as we are now seeing from the example of the acute military-political conflict in Europe. One might even suggest that this conflict—Russia and NATO clashing over Ukraine—was a product itself of post-Cold War institutional dynamics. If the US and Western Europe could act under the conditions of the restrictions that had been lifted through their participation in common international institutions, peace in Europe could be maintained.

                                                          This, however, did not happen, and now we must answer the question of whether such a form of interstate relations is generally able to survive amid the new conditions? Moreover, over the past years, the creation of institutions has become a practice that is widespread, even without the direct participation of the West.

                                                          On a global scale, we are witnessing the activities of the BRICS, which emerged as an alternative to the Western world order, but took the form of its most interesting achievement. At the regional level of Eurasia, the activity of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), which is also an international institution, but without the participation of Western countries, has become quite successful. Even Russia and its closest neighbours have created institutions such as the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO).

                                                          The first two institutions are new in the sense that they have no connection with the power potential of the participants. The EAEU and the CSTO are in a more difficult position, since at their centre is Russia, which is far superior to its allies economically and militarily.

                                                          Therefore, for comparison with the institutions of the past international order, BRICS and the SCO, of course, deserve more attention. Their assessment allows us to highlight what can make such organisations more promising and useful for global and regional security, i.e. realising the main goal of states is their survival.

                                                          Based on an analysis of the nature and activities of the BRICS and the SCO, we can see what distinguishes them from the traditional institutions of the West and can thus correct the assessments proposed almost 30 years ago by Mearsheimer. The main thing here, as we have already noted, is the absence of a clearly defined power base. Both international institutions are, in this sense, the antipodes of NATO and the European Union -the pinnacles of the institutional building of the West. NATO was built around the rigid core of absolute US military dominance over its allies. This allows this organisation to avoid serious internal conflicts, and also ensures its most important task - maintaining the strategic internal stability of the participants.

                                                          All NATO governments are handing over the crucial function of defence planning to the United States, and in doing so, rid themselves of one of the most frequent sources of domestic political upheaval. In the case of the European Union, it is about a more complex balance of power between the big countries, allowing the sustainability of overall cooperation despite the persistence of injustice towards the interests of the weaker countries.

                                                          BRICS and the SCO have nothing in common with this nature. Taking into account the difference in interests and geopolitical priorities of its participants, evolution in this direction also does not seem likely. This is the most important sign that needs to be studied: a new type of international organisation, represented by the SCO and BRICS, offers chances for maintaining this form of cooperation between states even in the conditions of the end of the international order under the control of the West. Therefore, it allows us to talk about a certain change in the nature of relations between countries with different power potential, which, of course, can be in demand in the new era.

                                                          In the same case, if we are talking about the influence of international institutions on global security, then here BRICS and the SCO are also very interesting. Both institutions are incapable of creating a common interest among the participating countries on such a scale and of such quality that it could oppose them to other members of the international community. That is, for the BRICS and the SCO, the risk of following the path of the West is much lower than one might assume, with traditional ideas about the consequences of strong institutions for global peace. In any case, both examples are new in their philosophy; an assessment of their nature and potential gives us rich material for a better understanding of how a more just world order can be organised.
                                                                        Chinese expert names Indonesia, Algeria as next likely BRICS candidates (Китайский эксперт назвал Индонезию и Алжир следующими вероятными кандидатами в БРИКС) / Russia, October, 2023
                                                                        Keywords: brics+

                                                                        John Gong said China favors the accession of friendly countries with strong economies, and Beijing "may also be interested in Latin American countries"

                                                                        SOCHI, October 2. /TASS/. Indonesia and Algeria are the frontrunners to join BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) in the next expansion, Vice President for Academic Affairs, research and strategy at the University of International Business and Economics in China John Gong told TASS on the sidelines of the 20th annual meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club.

                                                                        When asked about the prospects for a second wave of BRICS expansion, the expert urged to take a closer look at such large economies as Indonesia and Algeria. "If we talk about which countries are most likely to join BRICS next, they are big economies like Indonesia. Algeria, perhaps. But this talk is still premature," he noted.

                                                                        The analyst said China favors the accession of friendly countries with strong economies. "China may also be interested in Latin American countries," he added.

                                                                        Following the BRICS summit, which took place August 22-24 in Johannesburg, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the expansion of the association. Argentina, Egypt, Iran, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Ethiopia will join BRICS on January 1, 2024.

                                                                        The 20th annual meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club is taking place from October 2 to 5 in Sochi. Its theme is Fair Multipolarity: How to Ensure Security and Development for Everyone.

                                                                                      Investment and Finance
                                                                                      Investment and finance in BRICS
                                                                                      Reforming the WTO: what role for the Global South? (Реформирование ВТО: какова роль Глобального Юга?) / Russia, October, 2023
                                                                                      Keywords: economic_challenges

                                                                                      The theme of the reform of the World Trade Organization (WTO) has received significant attention from India's presidency in the G20 in 2023. Within the framework of the Think 20 (an academic offshoot of the G20) several policy briefs have been dedicated to the theme of imp-roving the operations of the WTO, with a key focus being placed on the modalities of the Dispute Settlement Body as well as the use of plurilateral agreements as a way of advancing greater trade openness. But in most of these forays into repairing the international trading system, there are several important "blind spots" – the rising role of regionalism and the greater role of the Global South in the past several decades. Without fully incorporating these factors into the framework of WTO reform, efforts to resuscitate this key global organization are unlikely to succeed.

                                                                                      As regards the rising role of regionalism in the world economy, this trend has been seen by many observers as being inimical to the operation of global organizations such as the WTO. For too long regionalism has been perceived more as a substitute, rather than a supporting pillar for multilateral institutions. In reality, a careful look at the potential dividends of regionalism for the global economy suggests that there is notable scope for synergies between regionalism and multilateralism/globalism. Indeed, the one area where I believe there is still room for the G20 to strengthen its economic efficacy and contribute to the strengthening of the WTO on the international arena is via creating a platform for regional integration arrangements, in which G20 countries are members.

                                                                                      This proposal for the creation of a "regional 20" that brings together the regional integration blocs in the global economy is contained in a recent IIASA paper (group of authors is led by Professor Jeffrey Sachs) produced for the G20 and dedicated primarily to the reform of the World Trade Organization (WTO)[1]. The idea is that the mandate of the WTO would be expanded and its capabilities augmented by greater cooperation with the platform of regional trade arrangements in the "regional 20" circle. Rather than being a hindrance, regionalism in such a setting could become a force that supports global institutions such as the WTO.

                                                                                      Some of the main recommendations of the paper with respect to the WTO reform and the role of regionalism are as follows: "The WTO needs closer co-ordination with regional integration arrangements. To address this, several steps can be taken.

                                                                                      • First, the rules of accession to the WTO should be amended to allow the inclusion of customs unions as members, such as Mercosur.
                                                                                      • Secondly, a platform of cooperation and regular discussion should be created between the WTO and RTAs, similar to what exists between the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and regional financing arrangements. Inclusion of RTAs, especially those which are advanced, in discussions at the ministerial and trade rounds of the WTO could be also recommended.
                                                                                      • Thirdly, a "Regional Twenty" platform could be established within the G20, with the WTO as one of the key coordinators.
                                                                                      • Fourthly, a G20 group within the negotiation layer of the WTO could be created to strengthen connectivity between the WTO and G20".
                                                                                      The Global South could play a key role in the formation of such a platform for regional arrangements – almost all developing economies in the G20 have their very own flagship regional integration project – whether it is MERCOSUR in the case of Brazil and Argentina, or ASEAN in the case of Indonesia. With the African Union becoming a member of the G20 in 2023 the case for the formation of such a platform becomes all the more significant. The creation of a "regional 20" platform could also strengthen the coordination between the WTO and regional blocs with the view to rendering regionalism more open. A "regional 20" circle may also serve as a basis for a new, regional layer of global governance that would complement the levels of global institutions and national economies – in effect such a global governance layer would expand the possibilities for a horizontal coordination of best practices and synergies across the main regional integration blocs.

                                                                                      Apart from the "regional 20" platform within the G20, there is also scope for the Global South/BRICS+ economies to create their very own WTO platform within the "groups in negotiations" framework. All of the BRICS-5 economies are members of the WTO, but an expanded BRICS-11 formation includes Iran and Ethiopia that are not full-fledged members and have only an observer status with the organization. This should not, however, preclude the BRICS from creating their own platform within the WTO – among the key themes on the agenda for such a grouping could be lower protectionism from the advanced economies, coordination with other "groups in negotiations" of the Global South, a simplification of accession requirements/rules for prospective WTO members (including new members of the BRICS formation), the launching of a new WTO trade round that would accord particular importance to the needs of least-developed economies.

                                                                                      The formation of a BRICS platform within the WTO could help the Global South address such critical issues in global trade such as green development, digital economy (including digital economic agreements), technology transfers, greater access of developing economies to vaccines. Another important track is the support that could be accorded within the WTO to key regional projects of the Global South such as the formation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Developing economies also need to look into aligning their position within the QUAD – an instrument of consultations within the WTO that brings representatives of the developed world (US, EU) as well as the Global South (typically India, South Africa). Going forward there may be a case for the BRICS/BRICS+ WTO platform to feature in these discussions on the side of the Global South.

                                                                                      Overall, the reform of the WTO is of critical importance in a world economy that is increasingly embracing protectionism as a solution to economic difficulties. Without a constructive agenda for new trade rounds emanating from the WTO, national economies are increasingly falling prey to vested interests and protectionist pressures – a global trading system that is not capable of expanding trade and openness is vulnerable to bouts of contraction in trade and "introvert" trade policies based on subsidies, new modifications of "industrial policy" and outright tariff hikes. In this difficult period for the global economy, the Global South has the capacity to make a tangible contribution not only to the reform of the WTO, but also the new impulses towards trade liberalization in view of the still relatively high tariff levels and the sizeable scope for further regional trade liberalization.

                                                                                                    BRICS Financial and Monetary Initiatives – the New Development Bank, the Contingent Reserve Arrangement, and a Possible New Currency (Финансовые и монетарные инициативы БРИКС – Новый банк развития, резервный фонд и возможная новая валюта) / Russia, October, 2023
                                                                                                    Keywords: economic_challenges, expert_opinion

                                                                                                    At the 20th Annual Meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club our session is called "A World Beyond Hegemony: BRICS as a Prototype of a New International Architecture". The theme is vast and ambitious. Ambition is appropriate. Without ambition, nothing much is achieved. The BRICS are undoubtedly a major force in the world and have been so since the beginning, in 2008. We can indeed be a crucial factor in the consolidation of a post-Western and multipolar planet.

                                                                                                    This is what is expected of our countries. One can ask, however, whether the BRICS have fully lived up to this kind of expectation. How have we fared since we first started working together in 2008, at Russia's initiative? What can we achieve going forward? In trying to answer the first question I will be frank and sometimes even a bit harsh. Please do not see my words as arrogant or pretentious. They will be the expression of an expert opinion, fallible as all opinions. I hope my remarks will not be completely off the mark. Is it not true that self-criticism, though painful, may be beneficial in the end?

                                                                                                    I will speak not as an academic researcher but as a practitioner, having been involved in the BRICS process since the beginning in 2008, from Washington D.C, and up to 2017, when I left the post of Vice President of the BRICS bank in Shanghai.

                                                                                                    Beyond speeches, declarations, and communiqués, we have achieved so far two practical and potentially very important things: 1) a monetary fund of the BRICS, named the Contingent Reserve Arrangement – the CRA; and, more significantly, 2) a multilateral development bank, called the New Development Bank (NDB), better known as the BRICS bank, headquartered in Shanghai. This paper will cover briefly these two mechanisms and then move to discuss a possible future initiative – a common currency of the BRICS.

                                                                                                    The two existing BRICS financing mechanisms were established in mid-2015, more than eight years ago. Let me assure you that when we started out with the CRA and the NDB, there existed considerable concern with what the BRICS were doing in this area in Washington, DC., in the IMF and in the World Bank. I can testify to that because I lived there at the time, as Executive Director for Brazil and other countries in the Board of the IMF.

                                                                                                    As time went by, however, people in Washington relaxed, sensing perhaps that we were going nowhere with the CRA and the NDB. Indeed, progress had been slow. Why? It is a long story that will be addressed telegraphically here. I wrote a book about the negotiations that led to the NDB and CRA, as well as the first five years of these two financing mechanisms. [The BRICS and the financing mechanisms they created: progress and shortcomings, London: Anthem Press, 2022.]

                                                                                                    What happened in the subsequent three or so years, from mid-2020 to now, was not sufficient to overcome the shortcomings depicted in the book. A brief synthesis will be attempted here, starting with the CRA.

                                                                                                    The BRICS Contingent Reserve Arrangement

                                                                                                    The CRA has been frozen by our five central banks. It remains small; it only has five members, and its work is hampered by numerous restrictions and safeguards. The surveillance unit we foresaw has not been established, and no balance of payments support operations have been carried out, only test runs. Now, if the BRICS are serious about offering an alternative to the Western-dominated IMF, the CRA must be expanded in total size of resources, new countries must be allowed to join, its flexibility must be increased, a sound surveillance unit (similar to the one the Chiang Mai Initiative has in Singapore) needs to be established as soon as possible, and the link to the IMF needs to be gradually relaxed.

                                                                                                    All this is easier said than done. Having participated intensely in the two years of negotiations that led to the CRA, I can tell you that the main reason for lack of progress is the fierce resistance of our central banks, with the exception of the Chinese central bank. The Brazilian central bank is probably the worst.

                                                                                                    The South African central bank was not far behind in making the CRA inflexible – very strange given that South Africa is the only BRICS country that could conceivably need balance of payments support in the foreseeable future. What about Russia? Can the Russian central bank be made to understand that the CRA is now potentially even more important than when we conceived it, given the changes in the geopolitical context?

                                                                                                    Don´t tell me, by the way, that the CRA suffers from the same problems of all other monetary funds created as alternative or complementary to the IMF. For example, the small FLAR – Latin American Reserve Fund and the Arab Monetary Fund (AMF) have more members than the CRA and are active institutions that have carried out many operations for balance of payment support. Meanwhile, our CRA is dormant.

                                                                                                    The New Development Bank

                                                                                                    What I said about the CRA applies to some extent to the NDB. The Bank has achieved many things but has yet to make a difference. One reason being, frankly, the type of people we have sent to Shanghai since 2015 as presidents and vice presidents of the institution. Brazil, for instance, during the Bolsonaro administration, sent a weak person to become president from mid-2020 to early 2023 – technically weak, Western-oriented, no leadership, and without a clue as to how to conduct a geopolitical initiative. Russia is also no exception, unfortunately – the Russian NDB vice president is remarkably unfit for the job. Weak management has often led to the poor hiring of staff.

                                                                                                    These internal problems of the Bank were compounded by broader political hurdles, including tense relations between China and India, the sanctions imposed on Russia since 2014 and, especially, since 2022, as well as the political crises in Brazil and South Africa. These macropolitical issues inside and among the founding members have also hurt the NDB.

                                                                                                    Brazil has now sent Dilma Rousseff, a former president of Brazil, to become president of the institution. She has, however, less than two years to turn the Bank around. It's not enough time. Thus, the future of the NDB lies largely in the hands of Russia. This is because Russia will have the opportunity to appoint a new president for 5 years, starting in July 2025. I trust Russia will, this time, be able to send a strong person for the job, someone of high political standing, technically sound, and with a clear view of the geopolitical purposes that led the BRICS to create the NDB. It is an expensive initiative, by the way, and requires careful handling by our countries. Suffice to say that the Bank's paid-in capital from the founding members reached USD 10 billion, making it one of the largest multilateral development banks in the world from this angle.

                                                                                                    Why can it be said that the NDB has been a disappointment so far? Here are some of the reasons why. Disbursements have been strikingly slow, projects are approved, but are not transformed into contracts. When contracts are signed, actual project implementation is slow. Results on the ground are meagre. Operations – funding and lending – are done mainly in US dollars, the currency which also serves as the Bank's unit of account. How can we, as BRICS, credibly talk about de-dollarisation if our main financial initiative remains predominantly dollarised? Don´t tell me that operations in national currencies cannot be done in our countries. The Interamerican Development Bank, the IDB, for instance, has had for many years considerable experience operating using Brazilian currency. Why the NDB has not tapped into that experience beats me. One can expect Dilma Rousseff to start solving these problems.

                                                                                                    The NDB is also far from being the global bank we envisaged at the time of its creation. Only three new countries have joined the Bank in its more than eight years of existence – compare that with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the AIIB, led by China, established more or less at the same time as the NDB, which has had more than 100 member countries for some time. Moreover, governance in the NDB is poor, and rules are not respected by management. The Board is ineffective. Transparency is not observed; the Bank is opaque, little information about loans and projects is made public. HR is weak. Many important positions in the Bank remain unfilled, and discouragement among employees is rife, leading to staff departures, and thus the total number of staff is falling.

                                                                                                    Despite all that, the NDB remains an institution with great potential. It has a large capital base and support from five of the most important countries in the world. Support from the host city and host country has never failed. The Articles of Agreement were carefully negotiated and are mostly fit for purpose. Therefore, the NDB can still become a Bank of developing countries, by developing countries and for developing countries, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln.

                                                                                                    The NDB can have an important role, alongside the CRA, in an initiative that I now turn to – the possible creation of a common currency for the BRICS.

                                                                                                    A common currency for the BRICS?

                                                                                                    This idea originated in Russia. President Putin himself, as well as President Lula, have often spoken of de-dollarisation and of the possible creation of a common or reference currency for the BRICS. Since at least 2022, Russian experts have been working on the topic. The reason Russia is the originator of the idea is quite clear. Russia is the most important case of the weaponisation of the US dollar, the euro and of the Western financial system. The equivalent of about $300 billion USD, roughly half of the country´s official international reserves, were simply frozen – a unilateral moratorium that is among the largest such events in history. If this can happen, anything can happen.

                                                                                                    There are controversies among economists about whether the role of international reserve currency is an "exorbitant privilege" or an "exorbitant burden" for the issuing country. We need not go into that. The United States has always understood that money is power and holds on tightly to the status of the dollar as the hegemonic currency. At the same time, paradoxically, it undermines the dollar by resorting to the currency and the Western financial system to sanction countries that are hostile to the US or seen as such. Russia is the largest and most recent case in a long list of victims.

                                                                                                    Since the US dollar (and the euro) can no longer be fully trusted, it is natural that de-dollarisation should proceed, probably in a gradual manner. A BRICS currency could be an important step in that direction.

                                                                                                    Aleksei Mozhin, the Russian Executive Director at the IMF, a former colleague, and close friend of mine, hit upon a curious coincidence – the five currencies of our countries all begin with the letter R – real, ruble, rupiah, renminbi, and rand. He proposed that the currency be called the R5. Sadly, only two of the currencies of the six countries invited by the BRICS in their Johannesburg Summit to become new members of the group as of January 2024 also begin with the letter R (the currencies of Saudi Arabia and Iran) – something that partly spoils Mozhin's proposed name for the currency. Perhaps it could be renamed R5+ or R11, since the BRICS political formation will now perhaps be called BRICS+ or BRICS11.

                                                                                                    But let us leave nomenclature aside. Russian experts have proposed that the BRICS currency start as a unit of account, taking the form of a basket of the currencies of the participating countries, with weights reflecting relative economic size. This first step is relatively simple. The R5+ could be used, to take one example, as a unit of account for the CRA and the NDB.

                                                                                                    Both use the US dollar. If we are serious about de-dollarisation this may need to change.

                                                                                                    Discussions among Russian experts did not, in so far as I am aware, go much further than this, except for problematic references to backing the new currency with gold or a basket of commodities. How could we proceed? I presented a paper at a recent seminar in Johannesburg, ahead of the BRICS leaders' 2023 summit, in which I sketched out a possible road map [A BRICS currency? Paper that served as the basis for speech given at the BRICS Seminar on Governance & Cultural Exchange Forum 2023, in Johannesburg, South Africa, August 19, 2023].

                                                                                                    There is no need to repeat the road map sketched out in the previous paper. It is enough to quickly recapitulate a few basic points: 1) The R5 or R5+ need not be a physical currency, it can be digital. 2) The new currency would not replace the currencies of the BRICS countries but would circulate alongside them, being used mainly for international transactions. 3) The BRICS central banks would continue to exist as now, fulfilling all the functions of a monetary authority. 4) An Issuing Bank would need to be created, in charge of issuing the new currency and putting it into circulation, in accordance with predetermined and carefully designed rules. This would help create confidence in the R5+.

                                                                                                    Could the currency be backed in some way? Not by gold or other commodities, given the instability of their prices. One approach would be to back the R5+ by bonds guaranteed by the BRICS countries. The Issuing Bank would also be in charge of issuing the guaranteed R5+ bonds, at different maturities and interest rates. The currency could be freely convertible into these bonds. This arrangement would be a financial expression of the guarantee that the BRICS would give to the new currency.

                                                                                                    The CRA and NDB could play an important role in putting the currency into circulation. Not only could the R5+ be their unit of account, but loans by the NDB and currency swaps by the CRA could be denominated and paid in R5+. The NDB would also issue bonds in R5+.

                                                                                                    The Johannesburg Summit and possible next steps

                                                                                                    To conclude, let me mention possible next steps for the BRICS in this area. A new currency is a complex issue, political and technical at the same time, and needs much further discussion. Some progress was made in the Johannesburg Summit. The Leaders' Declaration addressed the matter of de-dollarisation and new payment instruments in a few significant paragraphs. They stressed, for instance, the importance of encouraging the use of national currencies in trade and financial transactions between BRICS and with other countries (paragraph 44 of the Declaration). The Leaders also tasked their Finance Ministers and/or Central Bank Governors, as appropriate, to consider the issue of local currencies, payment instruments and platforms, and report back to them by the next Summit that will be held here in Russia (paragraph 45). Furthermore, the establishment of a BRICS Think Tank Network for Finance in 2022 and its further development and practical implementation (paragraph 47) will create a channel for these monetary and financial discussions. The Declaration was not as explicit as it could have been on these issues and on a possible new currency because, so it seems, of India´s resistance, for reasons that are not entirely clear.

                                                                                                    Be as it may, the process has been launched. In his concluding remarks in Johannesburg, President Lula stated that the leaders had "approved the creation of a working group to study the adoption of a reference currency of the BRICS". He added that "this will increase our payment options and reduce our vulnerabilities".

                                                                                                    We can assume that Russia will now establish this group of experts. I will refrain from making now any considerations as to how the group could be set up. Let´s leave that to our Russian colleagues. I say only this: it would be advisable to draw lessons from the negotiation and implementation of the CRA and the NDB.

                                                                                                    It is our good luck to have Russia presiding over the BRICS in 2024 and Brazil, in 2025 – precisely the two countries that seem to be most interested in moving towards the creation of a common or reference currency. If everything runs smoothly, the BRICS may be able to take the decision to create a currency during the Summit in Russia next year. By the Summit in Brazil, in 2025, the BRICS will perhaps be able to announce the first steps towards its establishment.

                                                                                                                  World of Work
                                                                                                                  SOCIAL POLICY, TRADE UNIONS, ACTIONS
                                                                                                                  BRICS Future Skills Challenge showcases innovation and talent across five nations (BRICS Future Skills Challenge демонстрирует инновации и таланты в пяти странах) / South Africa, October, 2023
                                                                                                                  Keywords: social_issues
                                                                                                                  South Africa

                                                                                                                  This year's BRICS Future Skills Challenge covered topics like Robotic Process Automation (RPA), agri IOT, cyber security, data science, and mobile app development, to name a few.

                                                                                                                  Following a rigorous judging process, the top 15 competitors from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa pitched their concepts in a Dragon's Den set-up, with five experts on the panel for each area deciding on the winning concept.

                                                                                                                  Neil van Wyngaard, Solutions Architect at iOCO Digital and one of the Dragons in the RPA category of the competition, said that the winners not only showcased their country's talents, but received real-world experience and access to industry leaders and potential employers.

                                                                                                                  He said that young people participating in the BRICS Future Skills Challenge have already demonstrated their prowess in their respective disciplines.

                                                                                                                  "The finalists were chosen based on the effectiveness of their solutions, as well as their scores throughout the competition, and we saw many innovative answers to the problems we posed," said Van Wyngaard

                                                                                                                  Van Wyngaard further said that the South African delegates have established themselves as global contenders, showcasing inventive thinking and strong technical capabilities during the workshops leading up to the final challenge.

                                                                                                                  "'In fact, we won more medals this year than ever before, taking home a number of silver and bronze medals. This not only proves that we have what it takes to win, but that the digital future of South Africa is in safe hands," added Van Wyngaard

                                                                                                                  "Access to skills like RPA is becoming essential for businesses, and will become even more so in the future. The BRICS Future Skills Challenge is a great way for local students to gain international experience.

                                                                                                                  "This year, they saw first-hand how seriously other countries are taking the competition, and how much further South Africa needs to go to win in the future. China, for example, brought the best of the best the country offers, choosing delegates from winners of regional and national competitions – all of whom performed well, using all of the tools they had available to them, with some even going as far as using green screens and 3D renderings in their presentations," said Van Wyngaard.
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