Build-up aside, however, the main event, which South Africa hosts later this month, could mark a significant step in the reconfiguration of geopolitical power in the not-too-distant future.
The BRICS make up about a quarter of the global economy overall, and around a fifth of global trade with the grouping seeking to strengthen trade ties with each other and increased investment to aid economic growth.
"The expansion of BRICS as an economic grouping comes as the global economy slows and trade conditions have become defragmented," explains Annabel Bishop, Investec Chief Economist. "Geopolitical risks have seen Western countries wishing to diversify away from heavy trade dependence on China."
Not only have all African heads of state been invited to the event; some 40 countries from across the world – from Argentina to Kazakhstan – are queuing up to join the geo-economic grouping. Surely this is a milestone in political coherence for the Global South.
Let’s unpack some recent developments and what we can expect at the upcoming summit.
When is the BRICS summit 2023?
The 15th BRICS summit will be held from the 22nd to 24th August at the Sandton Convention Centre in South Africa.
Who will attend the BRICS summit in South Africa?
Among the attendees will be the Heads of State of Brazil, India, China and South Africa. Vladimir Putin will not be in attendance, with Russia being represented by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
The road to BRICS: How did we get here?
For many observers, South Africa has fumbled its way through international relations regarding the war in Ukraine by failing to condemn the invasion, while tiptoeing around flagrant ethical and human rights abuses amounting to war crimes. It was, Ramaphosa’s government said, non-aligned.
But this supposedly neutral stance drew further criticism in February this year, when South Africa held joint naval exercises with Russia and China.
Then one month later, on 17 March 2023, an arrest warrant was issued by the International Criminal Court against Russian President Vladimir Putin for war crimes. In terms of international law, South Africa had the unenviable position of executing this arrest when Putin arrived in the Republic in August. Cyril Ramaphosa explained this would be tantamount to a “declaration of war” on Russia – but his government was ultimately successful in persuading the Kremlin to send Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov instead.
Then in May came the revelations from U.S. Ambassador Reuben Brigety of arms and ammunition being loaded onto the Russian ship Lady R during its December 2022 docking at Simonstown. (At the time of writing, early reports of the investigation suggest no evidence has been presented to back up these claims.)
Needless to say, none of these events have done South Africa any favours in the western world, with previous trade privileges like AGOA (African Growth and Opportunity Act) now under threat on top of significant reputational and political own goals.
Key agendas for the upcoming BRICS summit
The big question on most observers’ minds is the addition of new members to the group. Already, BRICS countries represent over 40% of the global population and an estimated 30% of its GDP, and with China expected to overtake the United States as early as 2035 as the world’s largest economy, many sovereign states are eager to establish themselves for a de-dollarised future.
President Ramaphosa is pro increased inclusion saying recently: "We have resisted pressure to align ourselves with any one of the global powers or with influential blocs of nations. Multilateralism is being replaced by the actions of different power blocs, all of which we trade with, invest with, and whose technology we use."
But current BRICS members will first need to overcome competing differences and agree on a framework and criteria for accepting new members. This is one anticipated outcome of the BRICS summit.
Other agenda items will likely include trade and skills development, including South Africa’s desire to collaborate on vaccine manufacturing and green hydrogen. Russia wants China to help fill the gap left by international sanctions in microelectronics production. Discussions are also scheduled to tackle social concerns including expanding healthcare, and security and peacekeeping strategies.
Which countries want to join BRICS?
40 countries have expressed their interest to join BRICS, while 23 countries have formally applied, including Argentina, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, Thailand, Cuba, Egypt, Nigeria.
A BRICS currency?
A new common currency has been touted for some time as a way to reduce the dominance of the US dollar in international trade (80% of global trade is settled in US dollars currently), and bypass western-style political economy and financial regimes, providing more accessible international trade avenues.
However, this is reportedly some way off, requiring years to collaboratively develop the financial and banking infrastructure to support a common currency. Instead, attention seems geared towards developing a currency unit that can be used to settle cross-border trade only, rather than a currency unit to replace local currencies.
All eyes on India
The current BRICS countries differ in economic growth rates and size, with India having seen rapid performance as its trade ties with the United States increase. "India’s growing 1.4bn population is expected to become the largest globally this year, which is attractive for foreign investment," explains Bishop. "India is also seen to share similar demographic values as Western nations, and has signed a number of free trade deals, which is expected to boost industrial production and exports for the world’s sixth largest economy." In contrast, Russia’s trade has slumped with the West. Russia and Brazil make up the world’s eleventh and twelfth largest economies (and China remain in second place).
In time, BRICS Summit 2023 will likely be noted for the work it did to broaden the organisation’s institutional framework and processes to position it for more rapid growth towards a dominant economic bloc, and multipolar world once more.
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