Member countries should lend their full-throttle support to enhance BRICS cooperation
By Xu Xiujun  ·  2020-11-23  ·   Source: NO.48 NOVEMBER 26, 2020
The 12th BRICS Summit in session via video link on November 17(XINHUA)
The virtual summit of the emerging-market bloc that groups Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS) convened on November 17.
Against the backdrop of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the 12th BRICS Summit achieved productive results in three key areas—political and security cooperation, economic cooperation, and people-to-people exchanges.
The pandemic has brought about new possibilities for future collaboration and prompted BRICS countries to step up their partnership in the new industrial revolution and digitization.
Rising BRICS
As the world is caught between the pandemic of the century and momentous changes never witnessed in the last 100 years, developed countries have failed to take on a leading role in global cooperation and economic recovery. A series of problems occurred, including slow responses, weak testing, chaotic statistical data, insufficient epidemic prevention supplies and limited insurance coverage. And they have yet to address several of these thorny issues.
Several developed countries continue to shun their responsibilities in the face of the pandemic, with the U.S. even withdrawing from the World Health Organization on July 7. For many observers, grappling with the spread of COVID-19 has accelerated the decline of the West as represented by Washington. 
According to the latest forecast of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in October, the economy of developed countries will shrink by 5.8 percent in 2020, with the U.S. contracting by 4.3 percent, the eurozone facing a decline of 8.3 percent and Japan diminishing by 5.3 percent.
Although hit hard as well, the global share of the BRICS economic aggregate, however, will increase. This means that they may take on a more important role in the world economy.
China is the only major economy expected to report growth, with the IMF forecasting an increase of 1.9 percent in 2020, for an upward adjustment of 0.9 percentage point compared to the June forecast. The IMF also expects the Chinese economy to see a growth of 8.2 percent in 2021.
Since the second quarter, epidemic prevention and control in China has continued to improve. And the resumption of work, production and business, too, has accelerated. China is now the world's leading exporter of medical supplies such as masks, ventilators, and protective equipment. A sound Chinese economy will surely boost future BRICS cooperation.
Enhanced collaboration
Public health governance features high on the BRICS agenda. At the BRICS Summit in Ufa, Russia, in 2015, the five countries proposed the task of jointly developing vaccines. This was further elaborated at the BRICS Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2018, where an agreement was reached to establish a joint research and development mechanism. With the increasing urgency for COVID-19 vaccine candidates, this mechanism may come into better play.
Progress has been made under the BRICS Science, Technology, and Innovation Framework Program. Russia, under its chairmanship, has hosted more than 20 activities related to health, including vaccine research and development, high-end medical device production and smart treatment.
The five partners have convened meetings of foreign ministers and senior health officials, agreeing to strengthen mutual support in the prevention and control of COVID-19 and create favorable conditions for the provision of medicines, immunobiological agents and devices.
They also plan to issue a review of the BRICS countries' measures in the field of healthcare to counter the spread of COVID-19 and provide guidelines for experts in the five countries and the rest of the world.
China has joined the COVAX facility, a platform on which the nation will share vaccines with foreign countries, particularly other developing countries. It will consider providing vaccines to BRICS countries when the need arises. To support the development of the BRICS Vaccine Research and Development Center, China has designated its own national center. The country will work together with other BRICS members both online and offline to advance collective vaccine research and trials, set up plants, authorize production and recognize each other's standards.
During this summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping also proposed a BRICS symposium on traditional medicine to explore its role in coronavirus prevention and treatment, which may well boost the global arsenal against COVID-19. 
Common challenges
The pandemic has hit BRICS members in a number of ways. Responding to such health emergencies requires the mobilization of a wide range of social and human resources, which means an enormous amount of expenditure. Industries such as tourism, aviation and catering are the most vulnerable and there may be a knock-on effect on the banking, property, and consumer markets, leading to an overall economic recession.
Rising unemployment is likely to leave those who rely on day-to-day wages to support their families with severe survival predicaments. In some affected areas, the outflow of labor or lockdown measures have created barriers for farming and harvesting, leading to a shortage of food supplies and a sharp rise in food prices.
It will take a long time and much cost for the BRICS countries to achieve economic recovery. The pandemic has brought prominent issues such as healthcare, work-related injuries and homelessness, to the table. The BRICS countries must continue to increase their welfare spending at a time when huge amounts of money have already been spent on pandemic prevention and control. Favorable policies that are conducive to industrial recovery should be formulated as well, to help those who suffered bankruptcy or unemployment.
The people need adequate living standards, equal access to healthcare, as well as safe and fair working conditions. These needs are common challenges faced by all nations. However, they cannot be solved by anyone alone. They require a joint response.
Stronger supply chains
The outbreak of COVID-19 has magnified supply chain and public health issues, pushing for a more stable, reliable, and mutually beneficial supply. In the post-pandemic era, better mutual trust among business partners may determine industrial competitiveness.
Consequently, the industrial chain might shift to a smaller but stronger supply-demand relationship, where manufacturers willing and able to keep up with a top consumer base will seize greater opportunities.
Against this background, the governments need to better communicate with domestic and foreign companies to maintain supply networks. BRICS countries are highly complementary economically. They can optimize the distribution of industrial and supply chains among the members through policy coordination, promote specialization and cooperation between industries and between upstream and downstream enterprises in a specific industry, and give full play to the economies of scale within the members.
Innovative industries such as the online economy have gained momentum. In the future, technological progress will be the impetus for world economy. For example, 5G commercialization can accelerate the maturity of industrial chains, the industrial Internet will lead the digital transformation, and the blockchain technology will help build distributed trust systems.
Building on the BRICS Economic Partnership Strategy 2015, BRICS countries have begun to formulate the Strategy for BRICS Economic Partnership for the upcoming 2021-25 period. They now propose to strengthen collaboration in the promotion of industries such as telecommuting, online education and consumption.
China's decision to launch an innovation center in Xiamen, Fujian Province in southeast China, for this partnership is one strategic step in the right direction to cement the bonds between the five emerging economies.
(Print Edition Title: BRICS Remains Robust
Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon
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