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Chorus of the Global South
BRICS speaks as one to support free trade and inclusive growth in an ever more turbulent world
By Wen Qing | NO.31 AUGUST 2, 2018

Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a speech titled Keeping Abreast of the Trend of the Times to Achieve Common Development at the BRICS Business Forum in Johannesburg on July 25 (XINHUA)

'After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb." These famous words once spoken by late South African leader Nelson Mandela were quoted by Chinese President Xi Jinping at the BRICS Business Forum which took place during this year's BRICS Summit held in Johannesburg, South Africa, from July 25 to 27.

This year is the 10th since the BRICS summit mechanism took shape in 2009. There are plenty of examples that pay testament to the success of the group of five major emerging economies—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—in that time including the Contingent Reserve Arrangement, the New Development Bank (NDB) and the NDB Africa Regional Center.

While the international situation has changed dramatically in recent years, with the world now threatened by trade protectionism and unilateralism, the 10th BRICS Summit provided an arena for emerging economies and developing countries to stand together in the name of free trade values, inclusive growth and partnerships as the Fourth Industrial Revolution gets underway.

Tune of globalization

The three-day summit, held under the theme of BRICS in Africa: Collaboration for Inclusive Growth and Shared Prosperity in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, wrapped up with fruitful results. According to the BRICS Summit Johannesburg Declaration released on July 26, member states recognized that the multilateral trading system was facing unprecedented challenges, and they vowed to make all efforts to defend an open world economy, which enables all countries and peoples to share the benefits of globalization and should be inclusive and support sustainable development and prosperity of all countries.

"It is important that BRICS countries stand together with one voice against protectionism," Chen Fengying, a senior researcher on international economics with the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told Beijing Review.

At a time when the whole world is challenged by trade protectionism, the voice of BRICS, representing emerging economies and developing countries, is significant.

The world is unbalanced and developing countries are fundamentally disadvantaged by the international system. No single country, not even China, Russia or India, is able to counter U.S. trade protectionism alone, but as a bloc of five countries they are stronger. Five fingers can form a fist, and that fist can punch back, Chen said.

BRICS represents around 40 percent of the world's population and a quarter of the global economy, having contributed more than 50 percent of world economic growth in 2017 by committing to more exchanges with other developing countries through the BRICS Plus model agreed upon at the Ninth BRICS Summit in China's Xiamen last year.

According to Chen, BRICS has not only become a platform for cooperation among its five constituent members but also a stage for South-South cooperation by enlarging its exchanges with other developing countries, with Rwanda, Senegal, Gabon, Uganda, Ethiopia, Togo, Burundi, Namibia and Angola and the chair of the African Union invited to the BRICS-Africa Dialogue this year.

Emerging market and developing economies together contribute 80 percent of global economic growth. Based on current exchange rates, these countries account for nearly 40 percent of global economic output. If they continue to grow at the current rate, these countries will see their economic output approach half of the global total in the next decade.

The collective rise of developing countries is irreversible, and BRICS will play a major role in shaping a fairer and more equitable system of global governance to protect the interests of emerging markets, Chen said.

BRICS has advanced efforts toward the reform of global economic governance and to increase the representation of emerging market and developing economies in the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in recent years.

The strength of just one developing country is limited and its interests are easily overlooked. But together, BRICS countries form an irresistible force impossible to ignore, Chen noted.

In his speech at the BRICS Business Forum, Xi reiterated China's commitment to opening wider to the world through efforts to build a sound business environment, strengthen the protection of intellectual property rights and host the First China International Import Expo in Shanghai this November.

"China's further opening-up measures are in line with the general trend of global development, and in sharp contrast with the trade protectionism of the United States," said Hu Biliang, Dean of the Emerging Markets Institute at Beijing Normal University.

To better safeguard free trade values, China and other developing countries should take pragmatic action to facilitate trade under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative. Countries around the world should also uphold existing multilateral trade arrangements, which are not perfect but are based on a set of common rules and aim to be equitable, Hu added.

Media delegates cut the ribbon at an opening ceremony for the second edition of the BRICS Media Joint Photo Exhibition in Cape Town on July 18 (XINHUA)

Inclusive growth

With many developing countries plagued by uneven and inadequate development in certain areas, lagging far behind their developed counterparts, realizing inclusive growth was a key topic at this year's BRICS Summit.

According to Hu, cooperation with Africa to promote development on the continent has always been a BRICS priority. By strengthening their collaborative efforts, BRICS-Africa cooperation can become a model for broader South-South cooperation.

Many African countries are in the early stages of industrialization and there exists a real need for investment, technology and experience in these places. BRICS should cooperate with countries in Africa on poverty reduction, food security, innovation, infrastructure development and industrialization. China's work alongside African countries under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative has already proven fruitful, Hu said.

Ethiopia's Eastern Industry Zone established by Chinese enterprises is one such example. As one of Ethiopia's national sustainable development and poverty reduction programs, it is home to over 20 businesses which produce an array of goods from cement to shoes and has created numerous job opportunities for local residents, boosting livelihoods in the country.

China is also set to continue pursuing the Belt and Road Initiative to create new opportunities for the social and economic development of participating countries and to implement the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Hu added.

Besides efforts to improve the economy, the bloc is also committed to creating more inclusive societies by addressing gender disparities through the BRICS Gender and Women's Forum dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. The establishment of a virtual vaccine research platform focused on development and innovation has also been proposed.

New opportunities

In today's world, a new wave of transformation is gaining momentum in science, technology and industry based on artificial intelligence, big data, quantum information and bio-technology, and is giving birth to a broad array of new industries and forms of business which will fundamentally alter the course of global development and people's lives. "It is important that we continue to pursue innovation-driven development and build a Partnership on New Industrial Revolution to strengthen coordination on macroeconomic policies, find more complementarities in our development strategies, and reinforce each other's efforts in renewing economic driving forces and upgrading economic structure." Xi said at the plenary session of this year's summit.

The world of 2018 has once again reached a critical historic juncture. Cooperation among BRICS member states in the digital economy and other new frontiers is contributing to the pioneering developments taking place at these boundaries, Hu said.

The new technological revolution can provide some countries with an opportunity for leapfrog development, or enable them to capitalize on their existing strengths. But others, especially those still developing, are at risk of falling further behind as weak infrastructure and a shortage of talent, capital and other necessary conditions prevent them from exploiting the potential of advances in science and technology. Cooperation among BRICS member states is thus critical to their future development, Hu said.

Currently, each of the five BRICS members has their own comparative advantages in science and technology. For example, in China, e-commerce, mobile payment and the sharing economy are all thriving, while India has seen great success in the export of computer software and information technology-enabled services. By integrating each other's strengths, it is hoped that breakthroughs can be made and the development gap with developed countries closed to some extent, Hu said.

Xu Xiujun, a researcher on BRICS studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, also stressed the importance of increased collaboration among the five member states. He believes this could serve as a model for cooperation among other developing countries, allowing them to better grasp the opportunities brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The world has witnessed three major paradigmatic shifts in technology. The First Industrial Revolution was derived from the power of steam and water and took place in the United Kingdom. The second saw the introduction of electricity and occurred almost simultaneously in places such as Germany, France and the United States, while the third was pioneered in large part by the United States and the former Soviet Union, and saw the rise of the Internet and other forms of communication technology.

Many developing countries missed these opportunities and became marginalized in the world economy for the decades and centuries that followed. At this moment of epochal change, developing countries must cooperate with one another to seize the opportunities of the moment. In this regard, cooperation among BRICS member states could prove a useful model for the world to follow, Xu said.

Excerpts From President Xi Jinping's Speech at the Plenary Session of the Johannesburg Summit

History keeps surging forward independent of people's wish. We the BRICS countries must therefore have a keen grasp of the trend of our times, deepen our strategic partnership, and consolidate our cooperation framework underpinned by economic, political and security cooperation and people-to-people exchanges. This way, we will be able to turn our vision of a second "Golden Decade" into a reality, and together build a community with a shared future for mankind.

First, BRICS countries must unlock the enormous potential of our economic cooperation. Closer economic cooperation for shared prosperity is the original purpose and priority of BRICS cooperation. It is also in the economic field that BRICS enjoy the most promising, diverse and fruitful cooperation. BRICS countries need to step up trade, investment, economic, financial, and connectivity cooperation to make this pie still bigger. At the same time, they must work together at the United Nations, the Group of 20 (G20), and the World Trade Organization to safeguard the rule-based multilateral trading regime, promote trade and investment liberalization and facilitation, and reject protectionism outright.

It is important that BRICS countries continue to pursue innovation-driven development and build a Partnership on New Industrial Revolution to strengthen coordination on macroeconomic policies, find more complementarities in our development strategies, and reinforce each other's efforts in renewing economic driving forces and upgrading economic structure. In this context, China will host 10 human resources development programs during which experts of our five countries will be invited to draw up a blueprint for our cooperation in the new industrial revolution. By so doing, China hopes to enhance the competitiveness of not only BRICS countries but also other emerging markets and developing countries.

Second, BRICS countries must safeguard global peace and security. Political and security cooperation is an important component of BRICS strategic partnership. They should stay committed to multilateralism and to the purposes and principles of the UN Charter. They should call on all parties to abide by international law and basic norms governing international relations and to settle disputes through dialogue and differences through consultation. By fully leveraging the role of BRICS meetings of foreign ministers, national security advisers and permanent representatives to the United Nations, five countries can make their voice heard, put forth their solutions, and jointly work for a new type of international relations featuring mutual respect, equality, justice and win-win cooperation.

Third, BRICS countries must expand people-to-people exchanges. BRICS countries boast great civilizations. When it comes to cultural and people-to-people exchanges, there is a lot they can do together. As a matter of fact, such exchanges have notably gained momentum over the last year or two. Five countries should aim at greater people-to-people connectivity and more popular support for BRICS cooperation through extensive exchanges in cultural, educational, health, sports, tourism and other areas. China would therefore like to suggest joint touring exhibitions by the BRICS alliances of museums, art museums, national galleries, and libraries and closer cooperation in the cultural, creative and tourism industries and at the sub-national level. This way, they can spread the BRICS story far and wide to further enhance the mutual understanding and traditional friendship among peoples.

Fourth, BRICS countries must build a network of closer partnerships. Since the inception of the BRICS mechanism, openness and inclusiveness have remained an abiding commitment. The BRICS Plus approach adopted at the Xiamen Summit is designed to strengthen the unity and coordination among BRICS members for greater cohesion and, at the same time, to keep broadening the BRICS "circle of friends" in a joint pursuit of shared development and prosperity for all emerging markets and developing countries. Five countries may explore BRICS Plus cooperation within the United Nations, the G20, and other frameworks to advance the common interests and boost the development space for emerging markets and developing countries, thus contributing more to world peace and development through broader partnerships.

(Source: Xinhua News Agency)

Copyedited by Laurence Coulton

Comments to wenqing@bjreview.com

 

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