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BRICS countries form 'anti-Trump front' on trade

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The five heads of state of the BRICS countries during their summit in Johannesburg, on 26 July 2018. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

The BRICS group of emerging economies - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - have united in the defence of free trade in response to US President Donald Trump's protectionist stance.


The leaders of the BRICS countries met in Johannesburg for an annual summit from Wednesday to Friday – a meeting dominated by fears of a US-led trade war.

They said in their joint statement that they are all opposed to protectionism and that they will work together to support free trade, although the document did not mention Trump by name, and did not contain any proposed countermeasures.

"We express concern at the spillover effects of macroeconomic policy measures in some major advanced economies," the five leaders said in the declaration. "We underscore the importance of an open world economy."

Trump ‘sees BRICS as his enemy’

"They have a new reason for uniting: that Trump sees these BRICS countries as his enemy,” said Jean-Joseph Boillot, an economic analyst at the CERII think-tank in Paris.

“India as well as China has suffered from Trump’s protectionist measures, while South Africa, like many African countries, thinks the US just isn’t interested in it,” he told RFI.

“When the BRICS group was formed in 2009, it seemed like the countries weren’t very close – especially India and China. But now we’ve got [Chinese President] Xi Jinping and [Indian Prime Minister] Narendra Modi saying that their countries need each other. So it’s clearly an anti-Trump front.”

But supporting multilateralism, as the BRICS see it, is not just a matter of making veiled criticisms of Trump. As a whole, the five countries comprise 42 percent of the world economy, and that figure keeps increasing; consequently, it seems that they are keen to strengthen trade links amongst themselves.

“They need growth and they need an open world economy, because they’re very inter-dependent,” Boillot continued. “China relies on Africa as a source of commodities, while it also needs the continent as an export market. The same goes for India, and so on and so forth."

Russia-South Africa nuclear deal kicked into long grass

Russian President Vladimir Putin raised the issue of a deal in which Russia would help South Africa boost its nuclear energy programme, at a private meeting with the latter’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, on the sidelines of the summit on Thursday.

Ramaphosa said that he could not sign the deal for now because his country's economy is too weak.

This deal was first discussed in South Africa in 2014, enthusiastically backed by the controversial then President Jacob Zuma – who was widely seen as close to Putin. But it met trenchant opposition from several figures in Zuma's government.

So when Zuma was ousted and replaced by Ramaphosa in 2018, it seems the new president was not keen to push through a controversial policy supported by his unpopular predecessor.

"The nuclear deal in South Africa became a really significant political battleground, which is why when Ramaphosa came in, it was expected that deal would be redressed and reconsidered,” said Chris Vendome, a South Africa specialist at Chatham House in London, in an interview with RFI.