Brazil’s President Michel Temer, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi pose during the Brics Summit in Xiamen on Monday. Picture: AP

Trade between Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, which make up the handy moniker Brics, has been robust, despite tough geopolitical challenges and a sluggish world economy.
Some of these countries are beset with financial troubles and messy politics. So, all eyes would have been on the leaders of this emerging markets club when they met this week for the group’s 9th summit in Xiamen, China, with the theme “Brics: stronger partnership for a brighter future”.

For three days leaders, ministers and officials strengthen ties and raise issues involving Brics economies and politics.

They also cultivate an environment conducive to further reaping the benefits of strong trade in each country, which is supposed to have a ripple effect in each country’s geographical region.

Brics has been meeting annually since 2009, with South Africa joining for its first summit in 2011, to enhance co-operation and discuss issues of common concern, including global governance reforms, development challenges and security concerns.

The Xiamen Summit took place amid key challenges for Brics. Brazil, Russia and South Africa are facing serious economic and political challenges, while the military stand-off in Bhutan, between India and China, continues to smoulder.

Brics, coined by former Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill 15 years ago as an idea for an investment portfolio of emerging markets, has taken on a life of its own. Its member countries account for 43 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the global economy.

Despite the economic recovery losing steam, Brics has been the main engine for the world economy.

The New Development Bank, established by the group in 2014, is forging ahead and made its first set of loans in April to the tune of $811 million for renewable energy projects in Brazil, India, China and South Africa. Although China’s economic growth slowed, it has been the glue keeping the group together.

At the summit, Brics leaders were expected to work to forge closer ties as critics raise questions on whether the group can uphold the interests of developing countries.

The bloc grew out of disillusionment with the Western hegemony of multilateral institutions and the reluctance of Western powers to share global power.

This sentiment has been further fuelled by US President Donald Trump’s zealous anti-globalisation policies.

In the face of stiff protectionism, Brics is seeking to broaden its reach with other developing and emerging economies. In March, China floated the idea of Brics Plus to expand the bloc’s partnership to include some G20 members.

The host, China, has invited leaders from Kenya, Egypt, Tajikistan, Mexico and Thailand to be involved in talks.

This week, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said the invitation was not an attempt to expand the group but to broaden the discussions to non-Brics countries.

Also on the agenda was the possibility of fast-tracking the setting up of the bloc’s credit-rating agency.

Merits of the Chinese RMB becoming a common currency and making it another option for official reserve could also be on the table.

Brics has an ambitious task list to successfully steer it into its second decade.

To begin on a positive note and strengthen economic ties among members, Chinese experts have suggested setting up a free trade area for the economic bloc.

Peters is the live editor of Weekend Argus. She is on a 10-month scholarship with the China Africa Press Centre