By Pedro Alonso
Johannesburg, Aug 22 (EFE).- The leaders of the BRICS emerging economies – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – highlighted the bloc’s economic power and called for greater integration on the first day of the group’s 15th Summit in Johannesburg Tuesday.
The meeting of heads of state and government will run through Thursday.
“The changes that have taken place in BRICS economies over the past decade have done much to transform the shape of the global economy,” said South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, whose country holds the bloc’s rotating presidency this year, at the summit’s Economic Forum Leaders’ Session.
“Together, the BRICS countries make up a quarter of the global economy, they account for a fifth of global trade and are home to more than 40 per cent of the world’s population,” Ramaphosa stressed at the Sandton Convention Center, Johannesburg’s financial district, which is hosting the summit.
The South African leader noted that the group “exists not only to strengthen government-to-government relations, but also to forge stronger ties between the peoples of our five nations.”
At the same forum, Brazil president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, championed the creation of a “reference” currency for the bloc as part of “greater financial integration” and advocated “the adoption of a reference unit of account for trade among the BRICS countries, which will not replace our national currencies”.
Lula also highlighted the role played in this field by the New Development Bank (NDB), established by the group in 2015.
“The NDB already represents a milestone in effective collaboration among emerging economies and is expected to be the global leader in financing projects that address the most pressing challenges of our time,” Lula said.
The Brazilian leader also emphasized that, “at the multilateral level,” BRICS stands out as “being a force in favor of fairer, more predictable and equitable global trade”.
PUTIN, THE MAJOR ABSENTEE
In the economic field, Russian President Vladimir Putin stressed by videoconference that the five BRICS countries surpass the G7 – the group of seven of the world’s leading economies – “in purchasing power parity”.
Putin also said the renunciation of the dollar in exchanges and transfers between Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa was “irreversible”.
“As a result, the percentage of the dollar in export and import transactions within the BRICS decreased. Last year it amounted to only 28.7%”, the Russian president emphasized on the so-called “de-dollarization” of the economies of the bloc, which he wants to counteract with the promotion of local currencies for trade.
Putin is the major absentee at the Johannesburg summit, after he decided not to travel for fear of being arrested under the warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes in Ukraine, as South Africa is a member state of the ICC.
At the forum, the theme of BRICS expansion was also raised, which Chinese President Xi Jinping enthusiastically championed.
“We will forge stronger BRICS strategic partnerships,” Xi said in a speech read by his Minister of Commerce, Wang Wentao, at the Leaders’ Session of the Economic Forum, which the Chinese leader missed without any official explanation.
“We will expand a BRICS-plus model, actively advance membership expansion, deepen solidarity and cooperation with other emerging markets and developing countries,” the Chinese leader stressed.
Some 40 countries have expressed interest in joining the group, according to the South African government, which has received “formal expressions of interest from the leaders of 23 countries,” including Argentina, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Bolivia, Cuba, Honduras, Venezuela, Algeria or Indonesia.
The BRICS nations, which have yet to agree on admission criteria, want more weight in international institutions, which continue to be dominated by the United States and Europe.