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From Moscow to Brazil, South Africa, and China: Panelists Discuss Challenges and Potential for BRICS Countries in the Global Economy

From Moscow to Brazil, South Africa, and China: Panelists Discuss Challenges and Potential for BRICS Countries in the Global Economy

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On May 14, as part of the ‘World Economy’ session of the XXI April Conference 2020 an online panel attended by representatives of BRICS Network University took place. The session was devoted to the topic ‘BRICS Countries in the Global Economy’.

HSE News Service spoke with two participants of the session: Professor Alina Shcherbakova who moderated the session in addition to serving as one of the panelists, and panelist Bruno de Conti. Professor Shcherbakova teaches in HSE University’s School of World Economy, is the Academic Supervisor of the ‘World Economy’ Programme, and heads the Ibero-American Department of the Centre for Comprehensive European and International Studies (CCEIS). Professor Bruno de Conti teaches economics at the University of Campinas (Brazil).

Russia’s Chairmanship of BRICS in 2020 and New Priorities

One of the many topics covered at the session was Russia’s role in the BRICS network in 2020. The panelists weighed in one what they thought should be key areas of focus in the coming remainder of the year. According to Alina Shcherbakova, ‘The pandemic has revealed the need for cooperation between the BRICS countries, primarily in the health sector (which is Goal #3 among the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals). Of course, all the Sustainable Development Goals remain very relevant, but COVID-19 has revealed our general unpreparedness for a disease of this magnitude. Therefore, the agenda of the Russian presidency will most likely be amended in the direction of increasing attention to the prevention of crises like this.’

Bruno de Conti expanded upon this idea, outlining what in his view should be the four most urgent priorities for global leaders right now. Countries, he said, should first of all be collaborating in their efforts to develop treatments and a vaccine against the coronavirus. ‘It is a shame that countries are doing this individually, in a kind of race for their own advancement,’ he said.

It is a humanitarian problem and countries should be working in collaboration—and BRICS should serve as an example in this regard.

Secondly, global leaders should be engaging in joint efforts to send emergency resources (equipment, rapid tests, and also money) for the world regions that are in need. The third and fourth priorities governments should undertake jointly are revamping the economy (particularly by investing) and working towards structural changes in the economic system in order to improve the environment and global living standards. 


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Challenges and Potential for BRICS Countries in the Global Economy

Insofar as the session was called ‘BRICS Countries in the Global Economy’, the presentations varied. Professor Reza Daniels of the University of Cape Town spoke about the causes and consequences of the slowing of economic growth of BRICS countries. Professor Makram El-Shagi of Henan University discussed inequality in Russia and compared the country to the United States in this regard.

In her presentation, ‘BRICS Cooperation in Agriculture’, Alina Shcherbakova discussed the ways in which agricultural cooperation between the countries is particularly strategic as well as how it can be improved. ‘The BRICS countries are among the world’s top 20 food exporters, yet they are not competitors in most export items. In this context, food trade between our countries is one of the key elements of cooperation. This is also shown by trade statistics: since the creation of BRICS, the share of intra-group food trade has increased significantly,’ she said. ‘But the main obstacle in this case is the lack of a single database of sanitary and phytosanitary requirements for imported products of each country.’

A second area of cooperation within this sphere, said Professor Shcherbakova, is in precision agriculture technologies. ‘Brazil is the undisputed leader here, but other countries of the group have rich experience in agricultural research. A common goal for the BRICS countries is to increase the high technology intensity of agriculture—both locally and globally.’

Shcherbakova also touched on relations between Russia and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN, with which Russia has been cooperating for more than a year. This cooperation is certainly promising for both Russia and the FAO itself, she said.

Now the transition to high-tech agriculture is of central importance, which the FAO actively supports in all regions, including Russia

‘A more detailed discussion on this topic took place as part of the presentation, “Innovative Development of the Agricultural Sector in Russia. Agriculture 4.0”, prepared by the HSE Institute for Agrarian Studies,’ she noted.

In their presentation, ‘Brazil in BRICS after the Impeachment of Dilma Rousseff: Economic Crises and Sudden Modifications in the External Policy’, Professor Bruno de Conti and Professor Marco Antonio Roca discussed how Brazil’s position regarding its participation in the BRICS network has changed since Jair Bolsonaro came to power in 2019. ‘Since the coup d'état against president Dilma Rousseff in 2016, the foreign policy in Brazil has dramatically changed,’ said de Conti. ‘Notably, under the Bolsonaro government, the so-called “New Foreign Policy” claims a nationalism that is connected to western principles and Christianity, rejects diversity, is critical of multilateralism, and prioritizes establishing strong relations with the USA. The essence of this policy is therefore totally contradictory to the original aims of the BRICS network.’

However, Brazil is not abandoning its ties with BRICS countries. As de Conti pointed out, the country is very much economically dependent on China, so Bosonaro’s administration is continuing Brazil’s commitment to the group. Nonetheless, the country has relinquished its once ‘protagonist role’ in the network. ‘The current Brazilian government sees BRICS as only a platform for enhancing its economic cooperation with the member countries (notably China), but not anymore as a group with potential for reshaping the international order,’ he explains. ‘We have to highlight, however, that this is the foreign policy of a very specific government. We trust new Brazilian governments will turn back to a stronger connection to BRICS, sharing again the same aspiration regarding changes in the international order.’

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Online vs. Offline

In addition to pressing economic and geopolitical issues facing the BRICS network today, the session discussion turned to a topic that has been on all teachers and researchers’ minds lately: the advantages and disadvantages of conducting events online.

‘The online format has both pros and cons,’ said Shcherbakova. ‘Of the pluses, I can name the fact that this session is being attended by foreign colleagues who initially were not planning on flying out to Moscow to for the conference. But there are more cons, of course.’ The cons, according to Shcherbakova, include having to juggle vastly different time zones (a particularly acute problem when coordinating with BRICS researchers) and being at the mercy of one’s Internet connection.

Still, other disadvantages related to the event in a more essential capacity. ‘Online, listeners ask fewer questions than in person,’ she said. ‘Perhaps this is due to the fact that speakers can connect more strongly with a live audience.’ In addition, a virtual forum does not allow for in-person coffee breaks between papers. ‘Not all questions come to participants’ minds immediately, so conversations during coffee breaks and other informal elements of the conference are often no less interesting than the sessions themselves. Here we are deprived of this aspect, and this greatly affects participants’ feelings after the session.’

Professor de Conti noted, ‘On one hand, I would say nothing replaces in-person teaching and discussions, since it allows for close interaction, face-to-face conversations and consequently better discussions. The most challenging problem in my opinion is that it is much more difficult for everyone to keep focused.’

On the other hand, he said, ‘We may not ignore that online format opens very wide possibilities for international cooperation. As a matter of fact, Prof. Alina Shcherbakova invited me to give an online lecture about the Brazilian situation to her students in June, which I will do with great pleasure! Hence, I would say online formats may be a very valuable tool to complement face-to-face instruction, rather than replace it. But as a complement, we certainly should use it!’

International Collaboration: Our Students and Our Research

Technical difficulties and distance aside, Professor Shcherbakova emphasized the importance of international collaboration, joint research, and dialogue, even if it occurs remotely. ‘The experience of conducting sessions with colleagues who have similar research interests is especially useful, since the dialogue is not limited to a two-hour session period. And the fruits of this “cross-cutting” interaction are joint research and educational projects. So, for my students, I have repeatedly invited colleagues from the BRICS Network University to deliver lecture courses that students rated very highly.’

Deepening Ties: HSE University and the University of Campinas

Over the past few years, HSE University and the University of Campinas have actively expanded their collaborative relationship. Professor de Conti’s work with HSE began with the BRICS Network University (BRICS NU). ‘Since the first BRICS NU Seminar (Ekaterinburg, 2016), HSE has played a very important role in the constitution of the International Thematic Group in Economics,’ he says. ‘Professor Alina Shcherbakova has a leading position within our group and in recent years we have organized very interesting joint-activities, either involving the whole group, or in bilateral collaboration between HSE and the University of Campinas (winter schools, research seminars, invited professorships, etc.). Very importantly, Professor Marcelo Knobel, the Rector of the University of Campinas, has been kindly invited to join the International Advisory Committee of HSE, strongly deepening the links between our institutions.’

The collaborative potential between HSE and the University of Campinas has yet to be exhausted. ‘Currently, we are trying to work on two new dimensions of our collaboration: fostering co-authored papers and enabling postgraduate double degrees,’ says de Conti. ‘As for the first effort, I am very satisfied that the first joint-paper (co-authored by Professor Petr Mozias and myself) is being published in three different languages (Russian, Portuguese, and English). As for the second effort, we are still dealing with some bureaucratic aspects, but we already have interested students, so I am sure we will also succeed. All in all, I would say that in recent years HSE and the University of Campinas became sister universities, and I am very glad to be involved in this fruitful cooperation.’

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