The eThekwini Declaration: An analysis

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The Fifth BRICS Summit in Durban concluded the first cycle of BRICS Summits, after the 1st Summit in Yekaterinburg (2009), Brasília (2010), Sanya (2011) and New Delhi (2012). The 2013 eThekwini Declaration continues the trend of successively widening and deepening cooperation between the BRICS. The 5th BRICS Summit, hence, can be deemed a success. The declaration has an assertive ring to it:

"We aim at progressively developing BRICS into a full-fledged mechanism of current and long-term coordination on a wide range of key issues of the world economy and politics." (2)

The declaration also fulfilled expectations in that it announced the creation of the BRICS Development Bank (BSB). This is a major step towards institutionalizing cooperation:

"Following the report from our Finance Ministers, we are satisfied that the establishment of a New Development Bank is feasible and viable. We have agreed to establish the New Development Bank." (9)

The same is true for the creation of a Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA) amongst BRICS countries, with an initial size of US$ 100 billion (10).

The downside is clearly that neither initiative is strengthened by more specific information or a timeline. This is, particularly regarding the contingency fund, a certain disappointment.

The affirmation that "next Director-General of the WTO should be a representative of a developing country" is a success of sorts for Brazil, which fields a strong contender. Yet seven of the nine candidates are from developing countries, which provides the other BRICS countries wiggle room to support someone else. Indonesia's Mari Elka Pangestu is thought to be the favorite. Paradoxically, rumors were that Russia would support the candidate from New Zealand, thus contradicting the BRICS declaration.

In paragraph 18, the BRICS leaders confirm that they

"acknowledge the important role that State Owned Companies (SOCs) play in the economy and encourage our SOCs to explore ways of cooperation, exchange of information and best practices."

This may point to an emerging "BRICS Consensus" - symbolized by the pursuit of a state-led economic growth strategy sustained by strong development banks. At the same time, Small and Medium Enterprises are also mentioned (19).

Paragraph 20 states that

"China and Russia reiterate the importance they attach to the status of Brazil, India and South Africa in international affairs and support their aspiration to play a greater role in the UN."

This may sound encouraging, but falls clearly short of actual Russian and Chinese support for providing permanent seats to Brazil, India and South Africa - yet this is largely due to Japan's role in the G4, and thus unlikely to be resolved at a BRICS Summit. Brazilian foreign policy makers are probably right to have focused on issues other than UNSC reform since Rousseff became president.

Paragraph 26 strikes a balance between Russian interests regarding Syria (opposing any further militarization of the conflict) and civil society, which had urged the Brazilian and South African government in particular to include a call to

"allow and facilitate immediate, safe, full and unimpeded access to humanitarian organisations to all in need of assistance."

This is an implicit criticism of the Assad regime, which obstructs humanitarian organizations' access to rebel-held areas.

Finally, the eThekwini Action Plan is quite similar to last year's Delhi Action plan (which was largely fulfilled) - listing an impressive number of ministerial meetings during most of 2013. Most notable, perhaps, is the possible creation of a "virtual Secretariat" under the section "New areas of cooperation to be explored" - policy analysts and academics from all BRICS countries should now use the coming year to develop the suggestions made in the last part of the declaration further and enrich the debate with proposals - for example about what a virtual BRICS Secretariat should do.

Read also:

As 5th BRICS Summit approaches, South-South ties proliferate

Why the 5th BRICS Summit will be decisive for the grouping’s future

The BRICS and R2P: Was Syria an exception?

Towards a “BRICS Consensus”

Photo credit: Sabelo Mngoma/AP