BRICS Foreign Ministers’ Conference in Cape Town: Bangladesh Perspective

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The recent meeting of BRICS Ministers of Foreign Affairs in Cape Town from June 1-2, under the theme “BRICS and Africa: Partnership for Mutually Accelerated Growth, Sustainable Development, and Inclusive Multilateralism,” drew global attention. South Africa, which is in the chair this year, also arranged a meeting called “Friends of BRICS” with 15 foreign ministers from Africa and the Global South including Bangladesh on the sideline of the conference. This demonstrates the growing importance of BRICS as a forum for cooperation among emerging economies. BRICS was formerly considered a loose affiliation of various rising economies, but with increasing polarization in politics and consolidation of economic forces, it has taken on a more definite form in recent years. The ministerial-level meeting was basically a preparation for the upcoming BRICS Summit which is scheduled to take place in August. However, a number of important issues were discussed and several issues were brought up which have sparked discussions about the group’s potential expansion and its implications for developing countries like Bangladesh.

Key Agenda Discussed During the Conference

The process of de-dollarization and the potential formation of a BRICS single currency was among the top agenda items. The BRICS Foreign Ministers stressed the need of using national currencies in mutual settlements. At the same time, it seems that the New Development Bank (NDB) was tasked with developing a design for the creation and usage of a shared BRICS currency in mutual transactions. Another key agenda was the expansion of the group, since several nations, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Algeria, Venezuela, Argentina, Mexico, and Nigeria, have shown their interest in joining BRICS. South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said that she received 12 letters from interested countries so far.

During the summit, the group also called for a rebalance of the global order away from the West. The BRICS countries — seen as a “symbol of change” — were supposed to send a strong message to the globe that old means cannot address the new challenges. S. Jaishankar, India’s External Affairs Minister, urged the BRICS states to show their commitment to revamping multilateral institutions, especially the UN Security Council, as contemporary issues highlight the “deep shortcomings of the current international architecture.”

Special focus was also given to the developing nations in Global South. As South African Minister Pandor addressed the bloc as a champion of the developing world. She also stated that the rich nations have failed to uphold their obligations to the developing world and are attempting to shift the entire responsibility to the global South. It is argued that BRICS is promoting itself as an alternative to the West to make room for emerging economies. The group also talked about how economies are becoming more and more consolidated, which puts too many countries at the mercy of too few. To fight this, BRICS ministers called for promoting economic decentralization that is so essential to political democratization. Besides, issues like sustainable development, the fight against terrorism, cyber security, the development of AI, and climate and energy security were covered at the meeting.

Bangladesh’s Perspective on BRICS Conference

Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen was delivering his speech virtually during the meeting of the Friends of BRICS Foreign Ministers on June 2 where he emphasized more cooperation in regional and multilateral platforms given the current global economic crisis. He particularly stressed cooperation so that no one is left behind as propagated by the SDG of the UN. Additionally, Momen urged BRICS nations to share their cost-effective technologies with developing partners. These calls from Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister were in line with the key agenda discussed by BRICS Foreign Ministers during their meeting. It demonstrates a convergence of interests between the BRICS nations and developing nations like Bangladesh, which is really significant as the world economy becomes more divided and centralized.

As BRICS nations are focusing on more economic cooperation with emerging economies, Bangladesh can benefit from expanding its trade relations with the group. Moreover, the possible inclusion of Middle Eastern, Latin American, and African economies would help Bangladesh to diversify its export markets. BRICS nations incorporate approximately 42% of the world’s population and a quarter of the global gross domestic product (GDP). It will also assist Bangladesh in continuing its upward economic growth after its graduation as a developing nation by 2026. Enhanced economic cooperation within the BRICS framework could pave the way for greater economic integration and collaboration among friendly nations.

Figure 1: Economic Growth in BRICS Countries

In addition, BRICS nations like Brazil and South Africa can also be new sources of Bangladesh’s Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), as FDI inflow from its traditional investment partner is declining. According to a Bangladesh Bank report, the net FDI inflow from the US dropped by 56% to $200.79 million in the first half of the last year from $460.33 million in the previous six months.

Figure 2: BRICS’ FDI Inflow

Moreover, the inclusion of major oil-producing nations like Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iran, Venezuela, and Algeria within the expanded BRICS bloc could create new opportunities for Bangladesh, particularly in the energy sector. Bangladesh and other developing nations have been facing energy-related crises due to the Russia-Ukraine war and Western sanctions. If BRICS can bring in rich energy-producing countries, it will assist those countries in meeting their energy demands, as BRICS nations pledged to leave no one behind, especially those emerging economies.

Bangladesh was the first country to join the BRICS-led New Development Bank after its original members in 2021. Many experts have already considered the BRICS bloc as an expanding entity offering an alternative to the IMF and World Bank for states seeking bailouts. In 2014, the BRICS nations established the New Development Bank with a liquidity mechanism known as the Contingent Reserve Arrangement to assist members who were experiencing payment difficulties. Bangladesh has already sought budgetary assistance of $4.5 billion from IMF to ride out the ongoing financial shock triggered and subsequently worsened by persisting energy and dollar crises. However, IMF imposed dozens of conditionality and reformations which sometimes proved costly for the receiving countries. Against this backdrop, BRICS may emerge as an alternative for Bangladesh to seek financial assistance with much more flexible terms. In addition, the recent proposal of BRICS nations to reduce dependency on the US dollar and increased the use of local currency for intra-group trade will also be very beneficial for Bangladesh, as the country’s foreign reserve is constantly facing pressure due to the ongoing dollar crisis. The country has already used Taka for the first time to pay its bill to a Chinese construction company for the elevated expressway connecting Dhaka to Ashulia.

Most importantly, BRICS emphasizes multilateralism, and its commitment to jointly address those global challenges subscribe to Bangladesh’s foreign policy principles. Bangladesh has always sought diplomatic solutions to disputed issues, evidenced by its handling of the Rohingya crisis with Myanmar. Moreover, Bangladesh’s unwavering dedication to amplifying the voices of marginalized communities will receive a significant impetus, as the group has emerged as a voice of the Global South which was evident when S. Jaishankar and Naledi Pandor made bold comments on the marginalization of Global South by developed nations.

Moreover, BRICS can also be a common platform to fight common non-traditional security challenges like cybercrimes, arms proliferation, terrorism, and climate change. For instance, BRICS Ministers reiterated their commitment to implement the Paris Agreement and fulfill the goal of developed countries to jointly mobilize $100 billion per year to address the needs of developing countries. For Bangladesh, as a climate-vulnerable country and global leader in fighting climate change, this is a huge moral boost. Now, the country can always look for support in BRICS to make the world, especially those developing nations less climate vulnerable and risk-free.

In conclusion, the convening of the BRICS Foreign Ministers’ conference marks a notable development in global affairs. This gathering holds immense importance, particularly for developing economies such as Bangladesh, whose economic opportunities have been shrunk down by the prevailing trends of economic centralization and political polarization worldwide. The conference has rekindled hope among these nations, as it showcases a shared vision for mutual growth, sustainable development, and inclusive multilateralism. Looking ahead, the upcoming BRICS summit in August garners widespread attention. The international community eagerly awaits the outcomes and actions arising from this summit, as they have the potential to shape the trajectory of cooperation and collaboration among BRICS nations and beyond.

– Muhammad Estiak Hussain is a Research Assistant at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

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