Information Bulletin of the BRICS Trade Union Forum

Monitoring of the economic, social and labor situation in the BRICS countries
Issue 51.2023
2023.12.18 — 2023.12.24
International relations
Foreign policy in the context of BRICS
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov answers questions from the NTV Itogi Nedeli programme, December 24, 2023 (Министр иностранных дел Сергей Лавров отвечает на вопросы программы НТВ "Итоги недели", 24 декабря 2023 года) / Russia, December, 2023
Keywords: quotation, sergey_lavrov

Question: Here is a philosophical question: Yesterday, you spoke about justice, a just solution to the crisis, a just multipolar world order, etc. Now the Global South is closely watching us. What kind of justice can we offer them? How do we make it clear to them?

Sergey Lavrov: I think that any normal person, including politicians, immediately understands what injustice is when they see it. It is clear to them when issues are resolved fairly, based on a balance of interests and the key principle of the UN Charter, which emphasises the need to respect the sovereign equality of all states, big and small. Unfortunately, since the creation of the United Nations, the West, especially the United States, has failed to comply with this key principle of sovereign equality.

The Arab world is not just watching us closely; they are also closely cooperating with us. The atmosphere in Marrakesh during the meeting of the Russian-Arab Cooperation Forum, as well as my talks with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Migration and Tunisians Abroad Nabil Ammar and the meeting with the President of the Republic of Tunisia Kais Saied, demonstrated that this is not mere observation. There is a strong desire for active cooperation, both bilateral, in terms of developing the economy and mutual investments, and in the international arena. We aim to coordinate not just on specific issues, but on fundamental matters concerning the future world order.

In this context, justice means equal rights for all states and entities established in different regions. This includes the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council, the African Union, CELAC, as well as numerous subregional institutions in Africa and Latin America. In Eurasia, we have the EAEU, the SCO and ASEAN. These organisations have established close contacts, including through the Belt and Road project.

Integration processes are a natural part of life. Unlike certain plans proposed by Western countries, we do not intend to construct artificial schemes. Instead, we seek to allow these objective tendencies to interact with each other, as there are many overlapping areas where integration naturally develops. Through fair division of labour and mutual benefit for all participants, we will gradually move towards a multipolar world.

Question: Why didn't you mention BRICS?

Sergey Lavrov: I didn't mention BRICS because it is self-evident. I listed the organisations that are emerging at the regional level. BRICS is not an organisation but an association. I don't think there is any interest in turning it into a formal organisation with a secretariat, at least not at this stage and for the foreseeable future. BRICS is a symbol. It represents the shared desire of a majority of countries in the world to develop their initiatives together, taking into account each other's interests on an equal basis. It serves as a future umbrella for all subregional and regional processes. Some countries in Eurasia, Africa, Latin America and the Arab world are already part of this association. This is the future.

In the West, there are no organisations that have fair rules in terms of equality and genuine consensus. Not the kind we saw in the European Union, when Hungarian Prime Minister Orban was asked to leave the room and go have a coffee when they made some decisions concerning Ukraine. NATO enforces discipline through force. Perhaps one day, the West will realise that these trends are unstoppable and that the desire for real justice is the driving force behind the growing self-awareness of the World Majority, which includes the Global South and the Global East. We are part of this process.

                Five More Arab States Keen on Joining BRICS Bloc: Report (Еще пять арабских государств стремятся присоединиться к блоку БРИКС) / Iran, December, 2023
                Keywords: brics+

                TEHRAN (Tasnim) – The BRICS group of emerging economies including Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa invited three Arab countries to join the bloc in August this year during the 15th summit in Johannesburg.

                The three Arab countries inducted into BRICS are Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt. The other three countries invited to BRICS are Iran, Ethiopia, and Argentina.

                However, Argentina is the first country to reject BRICS membership as the newly elected president Javier Milei did not wish to be a part of the alliance.

                Moreover, BRICS is looking to cut ties with the US dollar and mitigate its global supremacy, reported.

                On the heels of the expansion, five more Arab countries are now looking to join the BRICS alliance. Arab countries are looking to cut their dependency on the US dollar and promote their local currencies for global trade. The five new Arab countries that have expressed interest in joining the BRICS alliance are Algeria, Bahrain, Kuwait, Morocco, and Palestine, the report added.

                Apart from these five Arab countries, 20 other nations are willing to join the BRICS alliance, confirmed South African Ambassador Anil Sooklal.

                Over 20countries formally approached BRICS to become members. The countries that are interested in joining the BRICS alliance include Pakistan and Nigeria, among others.

                Therefore, the BRICS alliance could spread its wings across the Arab world, Africa, Asia, and the global south. This puts the West and the US under pressure as a united BRICS could wreak havoc on the traditional markets.

                              Investment and Finance
                              Investment and finance in BRICS
                              The new "breakout nations": what role for BRICS? (Новые «страны прорыва»: какова роль БРИКС?) / Russia, December, 2023
                              Keywords: expert_opinion, economic_challenges

                              The new "breakout nations": what role for BRICS?

                              Of all the explorations into the secrets of economic success across countries, one of the most fascinating in my view has been the treatise titled "Breakout nations" by Ruchir Sharma[1]. Breakout nations are the success stories of economic growth over extended time periods, their model of development being a reference point for the rest of the global community. And while from the vantage point of the recent crises and geopolitical shocks Sharma's view of the composition of the future leaders of economic growth and modernization may be debatable, the very question of what will be the new economic wonders of the next several decades has been at the very center of the discussions on BRICS and other promising economic platforms and cross-country formations such as MINTs. With the formula of economic success still arguably elusive, an even more interesting question may be whether there are different conditions in the world economy that could foster a greater number of "breakout nations" – and whether in fact there is such a thing as an optimal set of "breakout nations" in the global economy?

                              From the point of view of global welfare, it may not be as advantageous if the economies that are staging a growth spurt are closed from the rest of the world. It may also matter whether these successful economies are important members of a regional integration grouping and are active participants in global organizations and fora. There may be other attributes that an "optimal breakout nation" would command such as "soft power", active participation in global initiatives to tackle global problems such as debt, energy crises, food shortages, pandemics and climate change. In terms of the mechanics of how the world economy generates "breakout nations", there may be a case for a more diversified pattern of such growth leaders to emerge in the various regions of the global economy, thus increasing the possibility that regional growth spillovers will provide a broader global growth momentum. Thus far, the growth impulses across the developing world were highly concentrated regionally, with East Asia, most notably Southeast Asia, playing a leading role.

                              So what kind of breakout nations would be optimal for the global economy? Clearly, the world community would benefit the most if these are "open breakout nations" that share their growth impulses with the rest of the world economy. It is also important that these are "scalable breakouts", meaning that their superior economic performance can be replicated by other economies, including within the framework of the respective regional integration arrangements. This latter point is important for the potential role of BRICS as "optimal breakouts" for the global economy as these economies play a significant role in their respective regions (now covering almost all of the main regions of the developing world) as well as at the global level, while also pursuing an active stance on resolving international problems on the global arena. One of the main downsides with BRICS playing the role of global growth locomotives is the low degree of openness of their economies, including the relatively low trade intensities in their respective regions.

                              At this stage it is an open question whether BRICS+ can become an incubator of growth success stories across the Global South. In coming up with such positive growth examples for the developing world the BRICS will need to take into account some of the success stories in US-led support to such economies as South Korea, Mexico, Singapore. Rather than waiting for another round of the "world economic lottery" to deliver the next growth winner from the emerging market space, the BRICS will need to actively expand their array of economic instruments to support the "breakouts" of the Global South. This in turn will necessitate more work in bringing together existing regional development institutions as well as the regional integration arrangements from the developing world. And while domestic economic factors and strategies are crucial, past experience (including the rise of the "Asian tigers" in the second half of the 20th century) suggests that external economic conditions and trends in regional and global alliances will likely also have a pronounced impact on cross-country growth patterns.

                              The emergence of the next wave of "breakout nations" will hence be driven to a significant degree by the unfolding scenarios of global economic development – which region takes the lead in growth and development, whether fragmentation is to set in vs. past patterns of globalization; what are going to be the economic division lines between India and China, the US and China as well as between the Global South and the developed world. In this vein, the continued rise of the Global South and greater prominence of BRICS+, with greater connectivity capabilities among their respective development institutions could benefit landlocked economies such as Mongolia, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. A US-led economic expansion may favour such breakout economies as Australia, Canada, Poland, India, Mexico, Morocco, South Korea, Vietnam. A moderation in the divisions along the North-South axis could benefit such economies as Vietnam, UAE, Uruguay, India, Indonesia. Greater economic cooperation between China and India could benefit some of the "in-between economies" in the region such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan.

                              All of the above discussions concerning the possibilities for the "new breakouts" are perhaps not quite as tractable without a proper list of "breakout nations" for the next several decades (let us assume that it is the 2024-2050 period). Well here it is then – please meet the VIBEs of the 21st century – Vietnam, India, Brazil and Emirates (UAE). This selection of promising economies is based in part on the likelihood of these economies managing to build cooperative economic ties within the Global South (BRICS+) as well as with the advanced economies, with other factors including population growth, as well as the scale of likely economic transformation in green and digital development. Such a mix of "breakout economies" could also be viewed as being broadly positive for global welfare in view of the notable regional role of these economies and the sizeable scope for reducing poverty in Brazil, India and Vietnam. Again, in rendering this contribution more significant greater market openness will be needed in the coming decades, particularly from Brazil and India.

                              According to the IMF, in 2022 the fastest growing economy in the world was Guyana with a GDP expansion of more than 62%. Of the largest economies in the world India was the leader with GDP expanding by 7.2%. India is expected to stay among the fastest growing large economies in 2024, with growth of more than 6%; other high growth performers include the likes of Vietnam, Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Philippines – all are expected to post growth rates of around 6%[2]. But the key characteristic of a breakout economy is not only the attainment of high growth rates, but also the capability to sustain them over an extended period of time. In this respect, some of the longest winning streaks of continuous economic growth include Australia – a sustained expansion without a recession of nearly 29 years that only ended in 2020 during the COVID pandemic. An even longer period of economic growth without a formal recession of two consecutive quarters of GDP decline was demonstrated by Japan in 1960-1993. Poland's growth record has been close to that of Australia, with growth performance among the best not only in Europe, but also globally in the past several decades.

                              In the end, the question of what are the new "breakout nations" that are to serve as role models for the economies of the Global South has important implications on the attractiveness of the economic platform and development paradigm that contributes to the emergence of such "success stories". In this respect as expectations are building up on the potential of an expanded BRICS+ formation, this grouping is yet to show its capability to deliver "economic miracles". And while the BRICS might not necessarily emerge as the breakout nations of the developing world, the BRICS+ formation may serve as a platform for such breakout success stories to occur. The good news is that past experience with breakouts suggests that almost anything is possible in the sphere of economic modernization – South Korea's transformation into an OECD member from the lows of per capita GDP in the 1960s is a case in point. Perhaps rather than merely exploring the conditions for generating a greater array of "breakout nations", the real question should be about the framework of global economic governance that would facilitate the "transmission" of superior economic policies and growth impulses from "breakouts" to the rest of the global economy. This, however, is to be the subject of a different exploratory foray, perhaps sometime in the year ahead.

                              Image by WikiImages via Pixabay

                              [1] Ruchir Sharma. Breakout nations. In pursuit of the next economic miracles. Penguin. 2013


                                            Global Inequality: Will the BRICS Countries Succeed in 'Steering' the Global Economy (Глобальное неравенство: смогут ли страны БРИКС «управлять» мировой экономикой) / Russia, December, 2023
                                            Keywords: economic_challenges

                                            The BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) are important in the context of addressing global inequality. Together, they occupy a huge proportion of the Earth's population and geographical space. Therefore, "inequality" and "equality" within the BRICS have global significance. The nature of economic growth in the BRICS countries has a signifi cant impact on changes in inequality in other countries, both developed and developing. These nations are also important because they are committed to combating inequality between countries, they share a desire to promote what Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has called "a new polycentric system of international relations".

                                            They are also important because their efforts to address domestic inequalities are becoming an increasingly important source of innovation and development as a beacon of hope and change. In a quest to understand different dimensions of inequality within BRICS nations, we took a glimpse into their political economic architecture.

                                            In recent years, the BRICS countries have reduced inequality between countries, driving economic growth through trade and investment in poorer regions of the world. In 2012, they collectively invested more than $6 billion in Africa compared to $3.7 billion for the US.

                                            They have had an impact on inequality in poor countries, stimulating industrializationvas well as commodity production, creating jobs for many poor people while providing national elites with new opportunities for accumulation. They have helped rebalance world trade, making South-South fl ows much more important in the composition of world trade. This effect is likely to continue despite the slowdown that some BRICS countries are now experiencing. Geopolitical shifts partly reflect changes in the global economy. In recent years, the BRICS nations have gained more leverage to assert their interests, which sometimes coincide with those of the global South as a whole. This analysis seeks to characterize the BRICS and their growing infl uence as an actor in global politics in light of the anti-equality agenda.
                                                          De-dollarization: 95% of the trade between China and Russia didn't use the US dollar (Дедолларизация: в 95% торговли между Китаем и Россией не использовался доллар США) / Brazil, December, 2023
                                                          Keywords: economic_challenges, trade_relations

                                                          In a recent visit to China, Russian deputy prime minister Andrei Belusov stated that, in 2023, the use of the Russian ruble and China's yuan in trade between the two countries reached 95%.

                                                          From January to October this year, 68% of Russian trade was made using the respective national currencies of the two countries, according to Russia's Minister of Economic Development, Maksim Reshetnikov.

                                                          Russia has used the yuan in trade transactions with Mongolia, the Philippines, Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates, Thailand, Japan, Tajikistan and Singapore.

                                                          The debate about the need to de-dollarize Global South economies isn't new, but 2023 will go down in history as the year in which this process accelerated.

                                                          History of sanctions

                                                          Russia has already faced more than 17,000 sanctions since the start of the so-called Special Military Operation in Ukraine's eastern region in February 2022, according to information recently released by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

                                                          The Global North map is virtually that of the countries that sanction Russia: the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, the European Union (and the candidates to join the bloc), Switzerland, South Korea, Australia and Japan, and some exceptions such as Singapore.

                                                          In this new wave, sanctions have reached historic levels. According to US President Joe Biden, they were designed to have a long-term impact on Russia and "surpass anything we've ever done."

                                                          The first wave of sanctions was imposed in 2014, following the crisis in Ukraine that led to a coup against President Viktor Yanukovych, and which had the involvement of the United States.

                                                          Measures against Russia began to be implemented when the country decided to reunify with Crimea, whose residents refused to recognize the new government that resulted from the coup.

                                                          "From 2014 to 2022, Russia simultaneously pursued de-dollarization and euroization. During this period, the European Union became Russia's main trading partner, leading to a shift in the main transaction currency, which changed from the US dollar to the euro," explained Xu Poling, the director of the Department of Russian Economy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

                                                          With the European Union intensifying sanctions in 2022, banning any transactions with the Russian Central Bank, as well as the sale, supply, transfer and export of euro-denominated banknotes to Russia, more than half of Russia's reserves have been captured, equating to around US$ 300 billion. The West even began to openly discuss the definitive theft of this amount.

                                                          In its 2022 report, the Russian Central Bank stated that "following the enactment of sanctions by hostile states, their currencies have become 'toxic' for Russian economic agents. An increase in agreements with friendly countries in national currencies became critical to guarantee and develop foreign trade," the institution's report concluded.

                                                          According to Xu Poling, from 2022 until now, trade between Russia and Europe fell by 70%, while trade between Russia and Asia rose by 70%.

                                                          Currently, imports from Asia, particularly from continental China and Hong Kong, are 40% of all Russia's imports. About 60% of the country's sovereign wealth fund is in RMB (Renminbi, the official currency of China) assets, and 40% of its foreign exchange reserves are also in RMB assets.

                                                          Until September this year, Russian participation in imports from the EU fell to 2%, according to Eurostat, the bloc's statistical service. In February 2022, the figure was almost five times bigger – 9.5%.

                                                          The sanctions' boomerang effect

                                                          "The first time I heard a serious discussion on the need to de-dollarize [transactions], to place them at a high level of geopolitical importance, was in 2014. Some high-ranking personnel in China described de-dollarization as a geopolitical lesson of uttermost relevance, particularly because of Iran," says Zhang Xin, the vice director of the Russian Studies Center of East China Normal University.

                                                          After the Russia-targeted sanctions, says Xin, many developing countries got worried about their assets and financial stability falling prey to the excessive use of the dollar as a geopolitical financial weapon.

                                                          At the end of last year, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), led by Saudi Arabia, decided to make the biggest cut in supply since 2020: around 2 million barrels. The Biden administration threatened Saudi Arabia over the decision, saying there would be "consequences" for the country.

                                                          In August this year, India used its national currency - the rupee – for the first time in history to purchase 1 million barrels of oil from the United Arab Emirates. Both the Saudis and Emiratis will be part of BRICS+ in January 2024.

                                                          In November, the European Commission presented the 12th package of sanctions against Russia and hopes its members will approve it in December.

                                                          The Russian agency Ria Novosti, with data from Eurostat, recently showed that from February 2022 until September this year, the European Union started paying, on average, two times more compared to the price they previously paid for US liquefied natural gas.

                                                          Estimates say the bloc paid over 52 billion euros more for fuel compared to the price the US charged in 2021.

                                                          China-Russia trade record in 2023

                                                          China-Russia trade has just broken a record of over US$ 200 billion, reaching the goal set to be reached in 2024.

                                                          The figure from January to November this year was more than US$ 218 billion, representing an increase of 26.7% compared to the same period in 2022. The annual result will probably surpass the US$ 220 billion goal Russia estimated a few months ago.

                                                          Growth in the bilateral trade relationship changed the composition of transactions, with Chinese companies occupying the space left by European and Japanese companies.

                                                          For Zhan Xin, it is important to highlight not only the total amount but also the content and structure of trade. "If you look at the segregated trade data, China is exporting more and more hardware equipment, electronics, machinery and heavy trucks, as well as automobiles to Russia. That is something that has never been part of the historical trade partnership between the two countries," he explains.

                                                          Economist Xu Poling considers that this artificial restructuring of global industrial and supply chains causes significant costs, and that the recovery process could take a long time, at least five years, and potentially up to ten years.

                                                          "During this period, most countries may struggle to achieve growth and instead [will have to] bear the costs of rebuilding secure industrial chains. I think this entire process is regrettable for all countries involved," said Poling.

                                                          BRICS evolution may favor de-dollarization

                                                          During his visit to China in April this year and at the XV BRICS Summit in August in South Africa, President Lula advocated for a payment system based on local currencies, without the US dollar.

                                                          At the next BRICS Summit, which may take place in October 2024 in Kazan, under Russia's presidency, the ministers of economy and presidents of central banks will present reports about the viability of the initiative.

                                                          "The combination of large industrial economies, particularly China, a sector of the main energy-rich countries and the most important developing countries can change the dynamics that have been the economic and political basis of the power of the US dollar – the so-called "petrodollar" – since 1970," says Zhang Xin.

                                                          At the BRICS Summit held in Johannesburg, the Russian president was the only leader to use the word "de-dollarization". "A balanced and irreversible process of de-dollarization of our economic ties becomes stronger with efforts undertaken to develop efficient mechanisms for mutual payments, as well as monetary and financial control," said Vladimir Putin.

                                                          Poling thinks that de-dollarization will not be completed quickly. "On the one hand, new options must emerge and, on the other hand, the fact that the US can close deals with other countries, providing more facilities and guarantees, will also have an impact on the de-dollarization process."

                                                          However, the expert says due to the politicization of the US dollar and its use as a weapon, the de-dollarization process is an inevitable move.

                                                                        World of Work
                                                                        SOCIAL POLICY, TRADE UNIONS, ACTIONS
                                                                        Putin expects strong CIS presence at 2024 Games of the Future, BRICS Games in Kazan (Путин ожидает сильного присутствия стран СНГ на Играх будущего и Играх БРИКС в Казани в 2024 году) / Russia, December, 2023
                                                                        Keywords: social_issues

                                                                        Putin expects strong CIS presence at 2024 Games of the Future, BRICS Games in Kazan

                                                                        The inaugural cybersport 2024 Games of the Future will be hosted by the Russian city of Kazan between February 21 and March 3, while 2024 BRICS Games will take place between June 12 and 23

                                                                        MOSCOW, December 18. /TASS/. Russia expects athletes from member states of the Commonwealth Independent States (CIS) to actively participate in the Games of the Future and the BRICS Games next year, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday.

                                                                        "[The Russian city of] Kazan is set to host next February's innovative Games of the Future, which combine traditional sports and cybersports, and later in June, the [2024] BRICS Games," Putin said in his video address to heads of the CIS member countries.

                                                                        "We expect athletes representing the CIS member states to take a most active part in these competitions," the Russian president added.

                                                                        2024 Games of the Future

                                                                        The inaugural cybersport Games of the Future will be hosted by the Russian city of Kazan between February 21 and March 3, 2024. They will consist of new disciplines combining advanced technology, the digital environment and physical activity.

                                                                        The competitions are designed to use cutting-edge developments in cybersports, robotics, both augmented (AR) and virtual reality (VR), information technology (IT) and artificial intelligence (AI). The tournament offers $25 million in prize money.

                                                                        As part of the preparations for the Games of the Future, Russia has organized a series of Phygital Games. The first Phygital Games were held in September 2022 and they were followed by numerous editions until today with the most recent one held in Kazan between October 5 and 22.

                                                                        2024 BRICS Games

                                                                        The 2024 BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) Games will be hosted by the Russian city of Kazan between June 12 and 23 and will feature events in 25 different sports.

                                                                        In mid-May, Russian President Vladimir Putin instructed the government to submit proposals for organizing and holding the 2024 BRICS Games in Russia.

                                                                        Russian Sports Minister Oleg Matytsin emphasized earlier that the BRICS Games are not meant to rival any other competitions and will not interfere with the international sports calendar.

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