BRICS summit 2023: What’s likely to be discussed?

A view of logo of New Development Bank (NDB) at its headquarters in Shanghai, China July 10, 2023. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo Acquire Licensing Rights
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JOHANNESBURG, (Reuters) – The BRICS group of major emerging economies – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – will hold its 15th heads of state and government summit in Johannesburg from Aug. 22-24.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi are expected to attend.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will not attend in person due to an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes in Ukraine. Putin will participate in the summit virtually and will be represented in Johannesburg by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Few details have emerged about what they plan to discuss, but here are some of the key issues expected to be on the agenda.

BRICS EXPANSION

The leaders are divided over the expansion of the bloc by adding new members, including the admission criteria.

Over 40 countries, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, United Arab Emirates, Argentina, Indonesia, Egypt and Ethiopia, have expressed interest in joining BRICS, according to South Africa.

China, seeking to expand its influence as it tussles with the United States over trade and geopolitics, supports BRICS expansion, while Brazil is sceptical.

Russia, hoping to overcome its diplomatic isolation over the Ukraine war, is keen to bring in new members, as is South Africa. India is undecided.

BRICS BANK

The group is also expected to discuss how to boost local currency fundraising and lending within the New Development Bank (NDB), or so-called BRICS bank. Local currency use will help de-risk the impact of foreign exchange fluctuations, South Africa’s Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana said.

The dollar has gained against emerging market currencies since Russia invaded Ukraine and the Federal Reserve began raising interest rates to fight inflation in early 2022, making dollar debt more costly for those countries to service.

While the NDB, which was established in 2015, is still looking at the potential use of alternative currencies, there will be no talk about a common BRICS currency during the summit, South Africa’s senior BRICS diplomat said.

The NDB is also expanding and the summit could become a key platform to attract more member countries. Bangladesh, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt have joined the bank since 2021. Uruguay is part way through the process of joining, while Algeria, Honduras, Zimbabwe and Saudi Arabia have expressed interest.

ECONOMIC COOPERATION

The leaders are also likely to discuss how they can improve economic ties between their diverse economies.

They are expected to engage in a series of discussions about trade and investment opportunities in sectors ranging from energy cooperation and infrastructure development to digital economy and the job market.

‘FRIENDS OF BRICS’

The last day of the summit is expected to focus on talks with leaders from other countries. Invitations to attend the summit were extended to 67 leaders across Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Caribbean, South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said.

France had expressed interest in President Emmanuel Macron joining the summit, but Russia was opposed to this because of French support for Ukraine against the Russian invasion. Macron was not invited.

Particular attention will also be paid to the relationship between BRICS and African countries to tie in with the summit’s theme of “BRICS and Africa”, Pandor said, adding that BRICS partners were eager to explore opportunities to benefit from the African Continental Free Trade Area.