BRIC as the acronym was coined for the first time in a Goldman Sachs study by Jim O’Neill in 2001. Originally it was a group of four major emerging national economies – Brazil, Russia, India and China. At that time, there were mixed reactions among these members: There was cynicism in Brazil, delight in Russia, indifference in India and bafflement in China. With the passage of time, this motley group was seen tying up together.
The outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic has caused severe human and economic destruction throughout the World. The leaders of BRICS countries, which represents nearly half of the world’s population met virtually to review the impact of the pandemic on trade and investment among BRICS nations. Several significant decisions were also taken by the leaders to combat the crisis situation. This paper highlights the steps that BRICS have adopted as group which portrays their commitment to collective action & mutual help.
The foreign ministers of the BRIC met at the margins of the General Debate of the UN Assembly in 2006 and then again came face to face being guest at the G8 Summit in Japan in 2008. The first diplomatic meeting of the BRIC was held on 16 June 2009, in Yekaterinburg, Russia. Since then, the leaders of the group started meeting regularly at different occasions. In 2010, efforts began in joining South Africa to the group. In 2011, South Africa was finally inducted into the group and with the entry of this new member, “BRIC” developed into “BRICS” (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). With a wide range of initiatives, including formation of the New Development Bank, BRICS developed into a serious driver of a ‘parallel order’.
BRICS Against Pandemic
Fast-forward to 2020, when the World Health Organization ultimately declared COVID-19 as pandemic in late January 2020, the BRICS responded too. The group expressed sympathy, support and solidarity towards China besides promising for full cooperation for combating. It also underlined the significance of avoiding overreaction, stigma and discrimination while responding to the outbreak. In addition to this Russian BRICS Chairmanship in its statement had also called for strengthening of scientific cooperation on public health and infectious diseases.
As the pandemic outspread, it caused severe human and economic destruction. In order to review the impact of the pandemic on trade and investment among BRICS nations, leaders of the group met for a video conference on 28th April 2020. The leaders reiterated that a concerted effort from the BRICS could provide a new paradigm for multilateral cooperation and build the discourse in international governance from the perspective of emerging countries. As the BRICS nations represent more than 3.6 billion people which is almost half of the world’s population and has a sum total of $ 16.6 trillion GDP, a BRICS driven initiative could serve to underscore the potential of the bloc.
India is offering pharmaceutical assistance to almost 85 countries on a grant basis for combating the pandemic. India being the largest producer of hydroxychloroquine in the world, had exported the drug not only to SAARC countries but also to the Gulf, the US, Russia, Brazil and Israel. This has built the stage for India to forge a comprehensive BRICS-driven pharma alliance that would also help in actively exploring the production of vaccines.
Likewise, using the extensive manufacturing capacity, China is providing protective and health gears in the hotspot areas throughout the world under its Health Silk Road diplomacy. Notwithstanding quality issues, it has steeled the transcontinental response by providing gloves, masks, testing kits, protective suits, respirators, shoe covers and coveralls. Chinese shipments were sent to Rome, Milan and Europe apart from Iran and Italy.
‘From Russia with Love’ – an air mission was launched by Russia for supplying medical aids and equipment to Italy. Medical supplies, equipment and experts were also sent to New York on request from US President Donald Trump. Since Soviet times, Russian emergency services remains highly equipped for handling emergency situations including nuclear radiation, biological attacks and chemical weapon attacks.
Similarly, on the African Continent, South Africa is engaged in framing a pan-African response to COVID-19. The only nation among the BRICS member states that is need of a reassessment in Brazil as President Bolsonaro still continues to resist lockdown measures despite continuous soaring in of infections.
In order to supplement these efforts individually made by the BRICS member states, existing BRICS mechanism has been activated. The five foreign ministers agreed on allocating $15 billion to the Shanghai-based BRICS New Development Bank (NDB) towards a special loan instrument for financing BRICS economies for recovering from the economic fallout due to the pandemic.
This loan from NDB will be of immense help for the affected countries to recoup their financial losses. NDB has already disbursed an emergency loan of $1 billon to India, South Africa and China. Additionally, the BRICS member states are expecting to establish cooperation in the healthcare sector. This will provide acceleration in the process of establishing the BRICS Vaccine Research and Development Centre.
At a time when the United Nations, European Union, G7 group and G20 group all fighting to develop a collective response against the pandemic, the leaders of the BRICS member states have stressed the significance of a ‘multilateral approach’. This approach has also been espoused by Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar. He opined that this approach will not only help BRICS nations in achieving national interest but also increase their say in global governance.
Significance of Multilateralism for BRICS
It’s been a while that ‘weaker states’ have sought to establish multilateral institutions that suits their individual goals & identities, detached from the global hegemonic order. In comparison to hegemonic powers, it becomes very difficult for the emerging powers to strike out on their own and thus for achieving individual goals, they are forced to rely on multilateral institutions. In a comparable vein, for the past decades, BRICS nations have sought to enhance coordination of issues of shared intrigue. This existing cooperation among the BRICS member states has been based on specific equations adopted by each nation with respect to achievement of their foreign policy goals and defined national interest. The key causes are – strengthening regional power of each member nations, reform of Bretton Woods institutions, an aid to the member nations in achieving their foreign policy goal and improve cooperation with emerging powers to bind it among formal institutional structures.
All these prompted the BRICS leaders to hold annual summit meetings, formation of NDB, and arrangement of contingency reserve – as a few key achievements. Moreover, the member nations have raised a collective demand for reformation of global financial institutions as well as even coordinated ranks at G20 summit. It was evident from Brasilia summit declaration of 2019 that the key principle of cooperation among the member states of BRICS remains reforming and strengthening the multilateral system. This demand remains crucial as BRICS nations are yet not capable to mount global efforts for dealing with large scale crisis, any doldrums in multilateral level institutions affects BRICS’s formation agenda negatively. This happens through an undermining of the strategic equations which prompts member countries to cooperate inside the BRICS framework to obtain the benefits amassed through a combined approach in international organizations.
However, the current churn in the world order in addition to the prevailing pandemic has raised several concerns about how BRICS member states are going to frame its future policies what impact will it bring on the association as a whole. If the rivalry between the US and China exacerbates, complex dynamics between New Delhi and Beijing intensifies, India’s balancing act deepens with the US, the growing linkages between China and Russia and tensions in-between US and Russia again escalates – there are substantial possibilities of an internal split.
Despite this fact, gaining consensus on an extended agenda for BRICS will only get tougher in the short run because of the combination of global and countrywide factors. This element will even have to cope with the effect of the pandemic on the BRICS economies, with expectancies of GDP decline predicted to be around 5 percent or greater.
The decision of allocating $15 billion loan as an instrument for economic recovery of BRICS member states is a step in the right direction though considering the magnitude of economic distress, the amount remains far from being adequate. Precisely, this is the reason – its capacity being limited – that multilateral approach to involve different predominant economies was called by the BRICS leaders in dealing with the crisis.