BRICS a stronger bloc for defending free trade
Judging by the statements of its member states and the theme of the ongoing 10th BRICS summit, "BRICS in Africa: Collaboration for Inclusive Growth and Shared Prosperity in the 4th Industrial Revolution", the five-nation bloc affirms, through concrete actions, its commitment to support multilateralism and the democratization of the international trading system in the face of US trade protectionism and unilateralism.
The tariff war ignited by the United States could evolve into a full-blown trade war and stunt global economic growth, causing greater difficulties in developing countries. In addition, it is weakening the World Trade Organization, and questioning the effectiveness and legitimacy of the organization.
Unilateral trade measures that cause widespread damage to a number of countries may not only lose their "protective" character for the domestic market and jobs, but also, and more importantly, become an "act of aggression" against the markets and jobs in other countries. The WTO was created precisely to be the institutional-normative framework of reference for all member countries in determining their action limits in global trade, in order to promote "competition", not a commercial "war", between them.
Given this context, it is necessary for the BRICS countries to remove the danger of unilateralist rhetoric and US protectionist measures by emphatically supporting the multilateral trading system of the WTO and increasing intra-BRICS trade. In this regard, much has to be done, as China is the only country among the five BRICS members that has substantial bilateral trade relations with each of the other four.
Besides, the expansion of intra-BRICS trade should be accompanied by the enlargement of BRICS as a political and economic platform. At last year's summit in Xiamen, East China's Fujian province, China proposed the concept of "BRICS Plus", a cooperation approach to build an open and diversified network of emerging and developing economies for mutual benefits.
World Bank reports show the trend of increased participation of these emerging economies in the global economy. So, if there is a vertical deepening of intra-BRICS trade relations to be done, the horizontal extension of BRICS so as to admit new members will promote the democratization of the international system. However, the enlargement process must take into account certain criteria, including the maintenance of the BRICS' original reform agenda toward some international organizations. In this respect, probably the WTO must be one of those that needs to be reformed.
Finally, each one of the BRICS countries could promote initiatives which would strengthen international trade. China will set an apt example later this year when it holds the first China International Import Expo in Shanghai on Nov 5-10. Known as an exports-dependent nation, China now wants to buy more foreign goods and services to meet the growing domestic demand for more and better products.
The Shanghai expo that will see the participation of more than 100 countries and regions would be a perfect example of an initiative that favors the promotion of free global trade. Perhaps the BRICS Business Council could play a more active role in the expo, and envision similar initiatives for the future.
It is time for concrete initiatives. BRICS has the opportunity to react positively to unilateralism and protectionism, without letting the obstacles created by the US to paralyze it. Contrary to what may be assumed, the current moment is a great opportunity for BRICS to show its commitment to building a community with a shared future for mankind.
The author is head of the Brazil-China Studies Center at FGV-Brazil.