A decade after the foreign ministers of Brazil, Russia, India and China met for the first time on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York to discuss global challenges (The 2006 War in Lebanon dominated the conversation back then), India will host the eighth annual summit of the BRICS countries on October 15-16 in Goa. What can we expect?
According to India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, India “will adopt a five-pronged approach to host the summit. The strategy is characterized by Institution-Building, Implementation, Integration, Innovation, and Continuity with Consolidation,” she said. “Building Responsive, Inclusive and Collective Solutions is the core theme for our BRICS Chairmanship with a special focus on institution-building, implementing past commitments, and exploring innovative solutions in a spirit of continuity with consolidation,” reads a Ministry of External Affairs statement.
So early in the process, these statements are fairly vague because new initiatives need to be discussed by all five member states before they can be announced at the summit in October.
Three things, however, seem to be clear:
First of all, India has been a stellar economic performer compared with the rest of the world. The country will use the summit to underscore its prime status among emerging powers as it continues growing faster than any other major economy. Indeed, the Indian government is acutely aware that it is one of the few places on earth producing hopeful economic data, lending it enormous legitimacy. India’s per capita GDP is just over 10 percent of the U.S. level, and even far below China’s per capita GDP. The country’s space to catch up remains enormous, and India may be one of the central drivers of the global economy in coming decades. Considering lower growth in China and economic disaster in Brazil, Russia and South Africa, India will easily dominate the summit. Its strong growth combined with China’s dominant size will make the BRICS an even more Asia-centric club.
Secondly, while several new initiatives are likely to be proposed in the coming weeks and months, the BRICS summit’s focus will be on consolidating existing institutions. Still, the strikingly broad number of initiatives is set to continue, and the summit’s website provides a wealth of useful information. According to India’s Ministry of External Relations:
People-to-people interactions, business, youth, and sports will be the key priority areas for our BRICS Chairmanship. The BRICS Under-17 Football Tournament, BRICS Film Festival, BRICS Friendship Cities Conclave, BRICS Wellness Forum, BRICS Trade Fair, BRICS Youth Summit, BRICS Think-Tank Forum, BRICS Academic Council, etc. will be hosted during India’s Chairmanship. Participation of people from across the states will be encouraged in various BRICS events during India’s Chairmanship. BRICS events will also be organized in different states across the country.
Finally—and this won’t surprise anyone who has studied the topic—BRICS has become something far greater than the majority of Western analysts will concede, and its institutionalization makes the group’s continued existence for years to come extremely likely. While pundits writing articles titled “Forget the BRICS” still argue that the main glue between the member states is high economic growth, and that the group should, consequently, cease to exist given today’s lower growth rates. Institutionalization has advanced far more than any Western mainstream analysts would have expected. The BRICS summit is now among the major pillars of the yearly travel schedule of any member’s head of state, irrespective of ideological orientation. Indeed, while initiatives that end up on the final document may not bear any fruit, the trend continues toward overall expansion of BRICS cooperation, not reduction.
The author teaches International Relations at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in São Paulo, Brazil. His new book, Post-Western World: How Emerging Powers Are Remaking Global Order, has just been published by the Polity Press.