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BRICS in six years obtained volume and substance -- South African expert

Chief Executive of the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) Elizabeth Sidiropoulos shared with TASS her vision of the state of BRICS on the eve of the group summit in Ufa

- How would you assess BRICS at the current stage? It emerged as a political club and now has acquired an economic foundation in the form of New Development Bank and Contingency Reserve Arrangement (CRA).

- I think since the first summit in 2009 BRICS has done very well in order to obtain volume and substance and get institutionalized. Initially the talk was about global government issues but now it is extending to other areas. It is an important platform for the five countries to express their views. South Africa has added African agenda to the discussion. BRICS now has mechanisms. It is not just about meeting once a year and discussing various affairs. It now has New Development Bank, Contingency Reserve Arrangement and currency swaps which create very important economic infrastructure. I would agree that initially BRICS at its core was a political construction and offered a set of global economic governance initiatives.

The economic mechanisms which I mentioned are additional as we cannot yet discard the IMF and the World Bank. They are additional mechanisms for developing financing which have their own set of rules. They may be similar to the old ones. I can't see the New Development Bank dropping every criterion you will find in the World Bank, but it is getting more in control of the situation. The stalling of IMF reforms is the reason. The US government has itself advocated the reform in 2010 but Congress hasn't passed it yet. The CFA is a political statement on the state of the IMF. The message is that if IMF does not reform the BRICS and the developing world will build an institution to bypass the IMF.

The new BRICS mechanisms are technocratic instruments to help member-countries develop their infrastructure themselves and execute projects they need. Old rules are not sufficient and new rules are to be written for instance for cyber governance, digital economy, peace and security. BRICS can make constructive input into writing new rules. The new bank will design its own framework for funding.

If the bank becomes operational by the end of 2015 it will beat all expectations. BRICS bank creates a platform for engagement with African Union infrastructure projects.

- BRICS members are different in size, population, and economic development. What are the uniting commonalities?

- These countries see themselves as independent players. Some of them position themselves in a very counter-Western perspective while others are closer to the West. But they are not shy to voice their beliefs and take the established powers to task.

Russia and China are permanent UN Security Council members while others are not. But they all feel they deserve a place at a high table. Some would like a new high table while others would like to change the existing high table. Working together creates a potential commonality of interest and a higher degree of influence because they are five systemically important states even if economically South Africa might be much smaller.

There is much more possibility for influence if you are doing it as a group. It does not mean that they agree on all things and that they are friends on everything. The three Eurasian powers have had a difficult history among themselves. But it does not obviate the fact that there are commonalities on which we have to work much more. Example is provided by cyber security.

Russian and Chinese perspectives can differ from Brazilian but naturally there are commonalities and it is necessary to arrive at a common position paper. That is what binds them together.

- Now there is the bank, CRA and currency swap. What next? South African foreign minister suggested developing people-to-people relations.

- There are two things. Firstly, there is nothing wrong with not making a big announcement at every single summit. Because sometimes it distracts from what you have established, i.e. the bank and other instruments. You have to put effort to establish them as you wish them to be so that they function properly. Big announcements do not matter if you have put the foundation for those financial mechanisms. It is important to make them consolidated and functional. If we immediately move to a new issue then we risk paying insufficient attention to them. So I do not think the summit should be judged by whether it makes a major breakthrough announcement.

As for people-to-people relationship, BRICS has already set up formal mechanisms for greater interaction across societies, academics, civil organizations, youth, etc. Most of them are structured and managed by the government. But there is also another dimension. They create organic foundation for exchanges and cooperation. That's the value of this exercise. Take SAIIA, for example. Before South Africa joined BRICS we had some links with Chinese and Indian institutions. Over the past five years we expanded the ties and learned much more and now understand Russia much better.

People-to-people relations are also around travel. We have a lot to do in that respect. South Africans do not need a visa to go Brazil, but we need visas for China, Russia and India. Simplifying the rules will facilitate people-to-people relations. That relationship should be driven by governments but at some point it should be able to develop its own momentum. Social exchanges will be welcome in health, education, urbanization to help tackle fundamental socio-economic problems that face the five countries.

- The Russian president arranged a meeting in Ufa of the leaders of BRICS, Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). What will they discuss?

- It highlights to the west that Russia is not isolated like it wished. They will be discussing terrorism, extremism which overlap with BRICS as these are global challenges. They can launch a new economic partnership strategy.

This is a meeting of one big region of linking continents particularly around economy. It may be seen in a broader geopolitical context against US-driven Trans-Pacific Partnership trade initiative which does not include China. It is interpreted as response to shifting geopolitical tide in the region.

There is nothing wrong with creating a platform to exchange views and share economic vision. Meetings with new potential partners are always welcome.

[Source: Itar Tass, Moscow, 07Jul15]

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