A Momentous 72 Hours in Johannesburg, South Africa

The BRICS summit in Johannesburg from Aug. 22-24 is set to be a strategic game-changer, although you would never know it from following mainstream Western media. With the representatives of over 50 countries attending, in addition to the leaders of the five members of the group (Vladimir Putin by video hook-up for security reasons), it will consolidate the fast-moving shift away from the “unipolar world” and its “rules-based order” (cf. SAS 32, 33/23).

Although no spectacular announcements, economic or political, are expected immediately, the five leaders will discuss and debate the defining issues of today, including with their guests in the BRICS Plus.

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa indicated the main items on the agenda in a speech on Aug. 20. Among them, expansion of the BRICS in one form or another (23 countries have already formally applied for membership), a policy of strict non-alignment, enhancing the role of the BRICS New Development Bank (NDB), and building “a partnership between BRICS and Africa so that our continent can unlock opportunities for increased trade, investment and infrastructure development”.

Just prior to the summit, President Ramaphosa hosted Xi Jinping for a state visit in Pretoria, the second for the Chinese President, with both expressing satisfaction with bilateral relations. The two leaders will also co-chair the China-Africa Leaders’ Dialogue on the sidelines of the summit.

Russia’s representative in Johannesburg, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, stressed that the discussions will focus on “strengthening the potential of the NDB and the BRICS Contingent Reserve Arrangement, improving payment mechanisms, and increasing the role of national currencies in mutual settlements”.

India’s Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra confirmed his country’s interest in increasing the use of the rupee in trade and in discussing the criteria for a possible expansion of the BRICS. Delhi has already taken measures to “de-dollarize” its trade.

The Brazilian government, too, has made it clear that they want the BRICS to address the matter of a non-dollar means of facilitating trade and development among nations. Ambassador Eduardo Paes Saboia, Brazil’s Secretary for Asia and the Pacific, had reported earlier that the use of local currencies for transactions among the BRICS countries and the possibility of establishing a BRICS unit of account are on the agenda of the closed-door meeting of the leaders. An important outline as to how to proceed was published by Brazilian economist Paulo Nogueira Batista, Jr, a former vice president of the NDB (cf. below).

The current President of the BRICS bank, Dilma Rousseff, will have a packed agenda in Johannesburg. In an interview to CGTN Aug. 19, she recalled that the NDB was first agreed upon in 2014 when she, as then-President of Brazil, hosted the BRICS summit in Fortaleza. She noted in the interview that infrastructure is key to development, and that her bank is ready to finance all kinds of projects. She underscored that no country can dictate to others what system they must implement, as they all have different civilizations and different histories.

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