BRICS Foreign Ministers to meet next week; To fight COVID multilaterally, says expert

India has the largest facility to manufacture vaccines, but it requires raw material and investment to meet the requirements. India is working with Russia to manufacture Sputnik in India. “But this joint venture is more an outcome of bilateral trust rather than a multilateral achievement of the BRICS.”

As the world deals with the COVID-19 pandemic, the BRICS member countries have the worst hit. Next week BRICS Foreign Ministers meeting is going to take place. The countries have yet to work as a multilateral body to deal with pandemic, opines an expert.

“The BRICS could have emerged as the leading institution in fighting the pandemic given the resources, demography and their capabilities to develop vaccines. Three of its members successfully developed their own vaccines, yet the countries of the BRICS are hunting for vaccines from the Western sources,” Prof Rajan Kumar, School of international Studies, JNU, opines.

How are member countries dealing with COVID-19?

The response of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) as an organisation to tackle the pandemic has been modest at best. The member states did commit funds and pledged to fight the pandemic collectively, but the progress has been slow and inconsequential.

Sharing his views with Financial Express Online, BRICS expert Prof Rajan says, “BRICS states are the worst victims of the pandemic in terms of loss of lives and livelihood. India, Brazil and South Africa continue to be ravaged by the pandemic. More than a million lives have been lost in these states. These states must speed up their collaborative efforts to contain the pandemic and overcome the post-pandemic challenges, especially the issue of economic recovery.”

“Russia developed Sputnik, China Sinovac, and India Covaxin. Had these states collaborated earlier on the joint trial and testing of these vaccines, the shortage would not have appeared at this scale. The prevailing mistrust on the efficacy of these vaccines is another bi-product of isolated efforts by the member states. China’s Sinovac lacks credibility in India, and there is no effort to procure them,” he adds.

“These states sought to promote their own brand and soft power through vaccine diplomacy. Vaccine nationalism runs counter to the norms of multilateralism,” he opines.

India has the largest facility to manufacture vaccines, but it requires raw material and investment to meet the requirements. India is working with Russia to manufacture Sputnik in India. “But this joint venture is more an outcome of bilateral trust rather than a multilateral achievement of the BRICS.”

In conclusion he says, “China claims to have taken the initiative to develop the Chinese branch of the BRICS vaccine research and development centre through its developer Sinovac. It is also working with Russian and Brazilian partners. Claims of China, however, are countered by experts who believe that apart from selling its vaccine, it could have shared the technology and waived the patent rights for other countries of the BRICS. That could have gone a long way in consolidating the BRICS and re-building the reputation of China. This would have pressured the Western states to follow suit.”

Agenda of the meeting on June 1

According to sources, the Foreign Ministers level meeting of the BRICS is happening in the midst of the surge in COVID cases in India. India and South are expected to raise and discuss with other member countries issues regarding seeking waiver of patent protections on the vaccines. According to reports, top diplomats of both countries are already getting ready with a revised document of the proposal which was submitted last year to the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

This was a proposal which was seeking to waive intellectual property rights including patents protections on COVID Vaccines, so that they are easily accessible to all.

India and Russia are already discussing bilateral production of Sputnik V. At the multilateral level there has been no talk of producing vaccines to fight COVID and give it to other countries as well.

Why is the theme important this year?

The theme for this year’s summit is ‘BRICS @ 15: Intra-BRICS Cooperation for Continuity, Consolidation and Consensus’. And the grouping, which is celebrating its 15th anniversary, had the first meeting of BRIC Foreign Ministers on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York in 2006. This meeting was held to review the achievements and contributions of BRICS to the global agenda and also to the national growth stories.

According to sources, the theme reflects India’s approach to strengthen the founding principles of BRICS cooperation which are based on continuity, consolidation and consensus.

BRICS has been a beacon of multilateralism which has supported equality, mutual respect and trust.

What will be India’s focus as a Chairship?

To work on specific deliverables across all three pillars of intra-BRICS cooperation in 2021, including Political and Security; Economic and Financial and Cultural and People to People.

Political and Security: India’s focus is going to be on reforming of the multilateral system; and counter terrorism, in an effort to enhance cooperation and dialogue on issues which are of global and regional importance. And to also focus on the developments in the global political space on security and prosperity and peace.

Economic and Financial: Under this the focus is on the Implementation of the BRICS Economic Partnership Strategy 2020-25; Operationalization of the BRICS Agriculture Research Platform; Innovation Cooperation; Digital Health and Traditional Medicine; and Cooperation on Disaster Resilience.

Cultural and People to People: India plans to qualitatively enrich and enhance intra-BRICS people to people contacts. This is going to be done through regular exchanges in business, youth, sports, academic and culture. Also regular exchange programmes for young scientists as well Parliamentarians.

Getting ready for BRICS Foreign Ministers Meet on June 1

Ahead of the BRICS Foreign Ministers next week on June 1, 2021, the second BRICS Sherpas’ and Sous Sherpas’ meeting was convened under India’s Chairship. The four day meeting (May 25-28, 2021) was chaired by Secretary (CPV&OIA), Sanjay Bhattacharyya and Additional Secretary (Economic Relations), P Harish, as India’s BRICS Sherpa and Sous Sherpa respectively.

The meeting was focused on negotiating the key deliverables for India’s BRICS 2021 Chairship. And outcome documents for the Foreign Ministers’ meeting next week.

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