Q1: What is the BRICS?
A: BRICS is a grouping comprising of the governments of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. The four BRIC countries (without South Africa) first met as a group in 2006, at a Foreign Ministers’ meeting organised on the sidelines of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly Session in New York. The grouping was then formalized in 2009 in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis, initially as BRIC, before being expanded to include South Africa in 2010. The first Heads of States summit or BRICS Summit was held in Yekaterinburg, Russia, on 16 June 2009. At the time of formation, the BRICS were some of the fastest growing large economies of the world – the so called ‘emerging economies’.
Q2: What are the stated objectives of the BRICS?
A: The BRICS have projected themselves as a group that seeks to transform the geopolitical status quo in favour of developing countries. The BRICS have repeatedly called for reforms at the Bretton Woods Institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) as well as the UN Security Council (UNSC), for more transparent and representative decision making on international issues. They are committed to a conclusion of the Doha Development Agenda of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that favors developing countries; they have pushed for a multilateral trading system that is not bypassed by plurilateral initiatives; and they have highlighted the restricted market access into developed countries for developing countries and the trade distorting subsidies of developed countries. The forum has expressed support for political and diplomatic efforts to peacefully resolve disputes, and for states to place international law and national sovereignty above the unilateral use of force. However, Russia’s unilateral use of force in Ukraine and subsequent military intervention in Syria did not invoke condemnation from the BRICS forum, suggesting strategic subservience to its geopolitical objectives.
Q3: What are the modalities of the BRICS?
A: The forum works on the basis of action plans approved during the annual BRICS summits. The work is coordinated through year round meetings of ministers of foreign affairs, trade, finance, education, energy, environment, and agriculture, governors of central banks, national security advisors, heads of statistical and anti-monopoly departments, chairpersons of supreme courts, and senior officials for science, technology and innovation. Additionally, working groups on certain key issues such as agriculture and agrarian development, counter-terrorism, environment, energy, employment, telecommunications, and the New Development Bank have been set up. The BRICS Sherpas and Sous Sherpas (the official government representatives nominated by the heads of states) lead this process of coordination. Further, to reach out to other stakeholders, forums such as the Business Forum, Trade Union Forum, Civil BRICS, and the Academic forum have also been established.
Q4: What have been the major outcomes so far?
A: The BRICS have taken coordinated positions on important geopolitical issues such as opposing unilateral military intervention in Syria (prior to Russia’s entry into the conflict), condemning foreign interference in Iraq, and calling for a just solution to the question of Palestine. Russia and China have also played a role in containing NATO and in the successful conclusion of the Iran nuclear deal. The grouping’s most important achievement, however, has been setting up the BRICS New Development Bank (NDB) and the Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA), which along with the China-led Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and a proposed southern ratings agency, attempt to establish a parallel structure to the Bretton Woods System that is more representative of the interests and demands of the global South.
With this increasing institutionalization of the BRICS, it was expected that the forum would pose a credible challenge to northern dominated institutions and policies. The BRICS joint declarations addressing major global development issues, from peace to global food security, also seem to indicate this shift. However, the BRICS project has fallen short of advancing an ideological alternative to neoliberalism. Instead, their domestic policies continue to adhere to an export led growth strategy fuelled by low wages, financial speculation, and multinational corporate exploitation, leading to rising inequality and ecological devastation. Currently, the BRICS agenda is overtly driven by governments and increasingly, big business.
Q5: What has been the process of civil society engagement so far?
A: An official process for engagement with civil society was initiated during Russia’s chairmanship in 2015. Titled ‘Civic BRICS’, it saw representatives of certain civil society organisations prepare position papers on social issues through working groups on peace and security, trade, healthcare, education, culture, and sustainable development. The Indian Presidency this year has decided to continue and institutionalize this process through the CSO Forum on BRICS. These are largely provisional and government led and controlled spaces. The BRICS Trade Union Forum was also set up in 2012 in Moscow to encourage dialogue and cooperation on workers’ issues and add a social dimension which is informed by the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) decent work concept. In addition, BRICS from Below, a network of activists and scholars from the BRICS countries which was founded in 2013 during the Durban summit of BRICS, continues to engage critically from an anti-capitalist viewpoint.
Q6: What is the agenda at the 2016 India BRICS Summit?
A: India currently holds the BRICS chairmanship and will host the 8th BRICS Summit from 15-16 October, 2016 in Goa. The theme of India’s chairmanship is Building Responsive, Inclusive and Collective Solutions. The government has adopted a five-pronged approach to deepening BRICS cooperation- institution building, integration of existing cooperation mechanisms and innovation of new ones, implementation of the decisions from previous Summits, and continuation of mutually agreed existing BRICS cooperation mechanisms. In addition to the official meetings, the government is also organizing several events such as the BRICS Media Forum, BRICS Trade Fair, U-17 Football Tournament, BRICS Wellness Forum, Film Festival etc. The official website can be accessed here: http://brics2016.gov.in/content/
Q8: Why is a Peoples Forum on BRICS being organised in Goa?
A: While institutionalised spaces have evolved for various stakeholders within the BRICS, civil society engagement is nascent and quite regulated, leaving little scope for critical engagement. Further, people to people contact across these countries has still not been realized. Therefore, people’s movements are organizing the Peoples forum to analyse the contradictions within policies of the BRICS governments and their institutions, put forth alternatives emanating from people’s struggles, and create solidarity with struggles and groups of other BRICS countries. As Goa is representative of many issues that India is facing, it is hoped that the Peoples forum will be an opportunity for movements and groups in Goa to highlight their various struggles and victories.
Q9: What is expected from the People’s Forum?
A: The People’s Forum is expected to provide a space for progressive trade unions, social movements, academia and civil society from various BRICS countries to share analysis and struggle notes, and build solidarity in the resistance against neo-liberalism and corporate globalisation. It will also be a space to learn from social experiments, struggles, and alternatives being forged in India and other BRICS countries. It also aims to discuss and put forward constructive suggestions and developmental alternatives to the BRICS governments in order to realise a just and equitable world.