BRICS nations strengthen trade ties with new initiatives

Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa seek to deepen ways of parlaying their united economic clout. 

Products and services from companies in Russia, India, Brazil and South Africa will have easier access to Chinese consumers after the recent summit of trade ministers from BRICS countries met in Shanghai to formulate new agreements on e-commerce, tourism, education and medicine.

At the two-day meeting last week, member countries discussed eight key areas spanning trade, investment, intellectual property protection and technology exchanges.

The term BRIC was coined in 2001 by Jim O’Neill, then chairman of asset management at Goldman Sachs. It originally referred to Brazil, Russia, India, China – leading developing or newly industrialized nations with large and sometimes fast-growing economies. The first informal meeting of the group was held in 2006 and the first formal summit three years later. South Africa joined in 2010.

The group is trying to leverage the regional influence and trade clout of individual members into wider areas of cooperation. The Shanghai meeting approved a new initiative for joint progress in e-commerce.

 “We believe that very soon, we will see more BRICS products on the tables of ordinary Chinese people,” said Zhong Shan, Chinese minister of commerce, who chaired the Shanghai meeting. “Chinese companies will also find more opportunities working with their BRICS peers in the aspects of e-commerce sales, logistics and payment systems.”

Last month, the ministry said China will import more than US$8 trillion of products in the next five years, offering huge opportunities for BRICS countries.

China's trade with Brazil, Russia, India, and South Africa in the first half of this year rose a third from year earlier to US$70.16 billion, outpacing China's overall trade growth of about 20 percent.

This nation’s cross-border e-commerce platforms contributed more to foreign trade. Imports and exports in the first half from China's 13 cross-border e-commerce pilot zones doubled to more than 100 billion yuan (US$14.88 billion), according to the Ministry of Commerce.

Business-to-business platforms comprised 60 percent of that value, becoming a new driver for China's foreign trade, the ministry said.

“E-commerce has become one of the world's most dynamic and constantly evolving business activities,” according to a summit communiqué. “That is playing an increasingly important role in promoting trade growth, industry transformation and job creation.”

Under the latest initiative, ministers of the five countries pledged to enhance ties in policy sharing, information exchange and implementation of best practices to maximize e-commerce opportunities.

A working group will be established to oversee that process, the statement said.

Zhou Zhiwei, executive director at the Brazil research center of the China Academy of Social Sciences, said China will play a leading role in that process.

“China is more advanced in e-commerce than other BRICS countries, and China can lead the development in terms of consumption and sharing of successful experiences,” Zhou said.

BRICS countries have huge potential to expand trade. They already account for a fourth of the global economy, though they generated only 11 percent of the total world trade in services, official data show.

“Services contribute more than 50 percent of the gross domestic products of BRICS countries, and we have carefully chosen areas to be the first steps in boosting trade in services,” said Zhang Shaogang, director-general of the Department of International Trade and Economic Affairs at the Ministry of Commerce.

 “Tourism is an apparent first choice because BRICS countries are all popular tourist destinations,” he said. “Chinese tourists are becoming more familiar with these travel destinations as their holidays take them from Asia to all over the world.”

Services in the sectors of medicine, information technology, education and construction will be at the forefront of the new initiative.

Measures will be undertaken to improve the collection of data, improve service quality, coordinate cross-border regulations and break language barriers.

The meeting also generated agreements related to increasing investment, enhancing intellectual property rights protection, building a multilateral trading system, opposing trade protectionism and strengthening economic and technology ties.

“The meeting demonstrated the BRICS spirit of openness, inclusiveness and win-win cooperation,” said Zhong. “It came up with remarkably fruitful results and laid a solid foundation for a successful BRICS summit in Xiamen in September.”

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