BRICS brings the chance of world change, as the US and EU obsess over internal battles

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The big outsider nations of the world meet at the BRICS summit as the US and EU face their own struggles, with a chance to reset the global agenda to improve their own economies and standing on the international stage.

The Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) summit in Brasilia, starting tomorrow, shines the spotlight onto a disparate group of hugely populated nations at a time when Western powers are at their most unstable for years.

This is a meeting for the outsiders of this world. The awkward squad. They are the lanky kids, the geeks, the pimply swots and the just plain weird of the global playground. They are big, influential players in their own regions but not welcome at the top table of global financial institutions where Europe and the US hold sway and jealously guard their seats.

Sure, they have economic issues to talk about, ostensibly the whole point of the Brasilia summit, but it is geopolitics that they are really there for. A big gossipy catch-up and a chance to compare notes on the increasingly fractured European Union and the ever more isolationist US of Donald Trump, and how those two tectonic shifts impact their own worlds and spheres of influence.

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China is in the middle of rolling out its massive Belt and Road initiative, spreading the investment love worldwide. Russia has managed to make previously unthought of diplomatic inroads into the Middle East, India speaks for a hugely diverse 1.3 billion souls and South Africa has the weight of the entire African continent on its shoulders, along with all the expectation that brings.

And Brazil? Well Brazil is playing host. It’s a game of keepy-uppy for President Jair Bolsonaro and all eyes will be on him, hoping he makes a better fist of it than his first foray onto the world stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos last January. The gruff, lisping former army captain did not earn any rave reviews for his short speech there, which lasted just six minutes of the allocated 45, and this time he has Lula, his political rival freshly released from prison, watching every move from the sidelines. It can’t be that comfortable.

So while their economies are out of kilter and there may be individual difficulties and priorities for these nations, they do share their outsider status and that is a powerful connection, but not all there is to this not-so gentlemanly club. They can certainly find further common ground on the workings of their New Development Bank alongside the BRICS Business Council, they can look at the potential effects of trade protectionism and access to the US market, they can address the digital divide and China, particularly, has plenty to share on innovation.

The BRICS nations represent 42 percent of the global population and if they can manage to find a way, or just a part of that way, to effectively address the issues that impact on their ability to increase GDP – education, security, workforce population changes, climate issues and government debt – then they will face the prospect of being able to protect their economies from the disruptions of the global economy, allowing for a more dynamic response to problems when they arise.

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With the BRICS nations in Brasilia, the rest of the globe looks on and wonders, is this the way things are going to be now? The EU and the US seem so caught up in the machinations of their own internal workings that they have no time or inclination to address global problems on a broader scale.

This summit is a fantastic opportunity for BRICS to have a huge say in the global direction of travel. It should not waste it.

By Damian Wilson, UK journalist & political communications specialist

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