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Transcript of Special Virtual Briefing on 13th BRICS Summit by Shri Sanjay Bhattacharyya, Secretary (CPV & OIA) (September 09, 2021)

September 09, 2021

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Namaskar. Thank you for joining us for this special media briefing following the conclusion of the BRICS Summit under the Chairship of India, Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi chaired the just concluded BRICS Summit with his four BRICS partners. To give you a little sense of what was discussed today, and to take some of the queries that we have received, we have the privilege here of having with us, Shri Sanjay Bhattacharyya, Secretary (CPV & OIA) in the Ministry, who is also the Sherpa for BRICS. We have also with us, today, Shri P. Harish, Additional Secretary (Economic Relations) in the Ministry who is the Sous Sherpa for the BRICS. First of all, I would request Secretary sir, to give opening remarks and explain to us what happened today and then we will take on the number of questions that we have received. Over to you sir.

Shri Sanjay Bhattacharyya, Secretary (CPV&OIA): Thank you so much, and Namaskar, and Good evening, friends. As you are aware, Prime Minister Modi chaired the just concluded 13th BRICS Summit in the virtual format. President Bolsonaro of Brazil, President Putin of Russia, President Xi Jinping of China and President Ramaphosa of South Africa, also participated in the summit. This was the second BRICS summit chaired by Prime Minister Modi after the 2016, which was done in Goa. And this was also the second summit that has been held virtually, you would recall that the last summit in Russia was also done virtually. For our Chairship this year we chose the theme of BRICS@15 Intra BRICS Cooperation for Continuity, Consolidation and Consensus. This as you know, marks the 15th anniversary of BRICS, our Foreign Ministers had met in the margins of the UNGA in 2006. Our idea was to seek ways to strengthen BRICS cooperation and to develop on the founding principles of the BRICS engagement, primarily Continuity, Consolidation and Consensus and how we can be even more result-oriented in the future. For this, we outlined four priorities for our Chairship year, reform of the multilateral system, counter-terrorism cooperation, using digital and technological solutions for attaining SDGs and enhancing People to People exchanges. The agenda for this meeting for the Summit today, included discussions on the impact of COVID-19 pandemic and how to strengthen intra-BRICS partnership in that context. The second agenda item was the closer cooperation between BRICS countries. The third was on global and regional issues. And finally, the fourth was on the reform of the multilateral system.

As you know, our Leaders were also briefed by NSA Shri Ajit Doval on the the BRICS NSA meeting and the NSA track. They were also briefed by Mr. Onkar Kanwar, who heads the BRICS Business Council, Dr. Sangita Reddy, who heads the BRICS Women's Business Alliance, and finally by the National Development Bank NDB President Mr. Marcos Troyjo briefed the leaders on the activities of the BRICS. Thereafter, the Leaders got into discussions on the agenda items. Now, let me give you a slight flavour of the discussions and the various outcomes that came out of the process today. In this welcome remarks, Prime Minister conveyed his appreciation to BRICS partners for supporting India's BRICS Chairship in maintaining the momentum of intra BRICS cooperation through this year, despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. He noted that in the last 15 years, BRICS had had many achievements, and has been an effective voice of the emerging economies globally, on issues of interest and concern. He also highlighted the four C's in this context, which is Cooperation, Continuity, Consolidation and Consensus which formed the pillars for us in this process. The BRICS Leaders also recognised the role of India, and there were many initiatives that were undertaken and many outcomes that were achieved. Significantly many of these initiatives that were introduced by Prime Minister Modi himself in earlier BRICS interactions have now reached an outcome this year. There were several firsts. For instance, the first Digital Health Summit, and this was mentioned by Prime Minister Modi in 2020 in the last summit, the Joint Statement on Strengthening and Reforming of the Multilateral System. And this too, was mentioned by Prime Minister last year at the summit hosted by Russia .On counterterrorism, we had an action plan. This was initially brought up in 2017 by Prime Minister and we work towards a Counterterrorism Strategy which was adopted last year. And this year, we have the Action Plan. The Agreement on Remote Sensing Satellite Constellation, this is an important achievement, it took a long time it was initially moved in 2014, on Customs Cooperation, on Agricultural Research Platform. And some of the other significant achievements were the BRICS Alliance on Green Tourism, BRICS Vaccine Research and Development Centre, the Water Meet is going to be for a first time and this idea was also moved in 2019. And we are working towards a BRICS Digital Public Goods Platform. And we hope that all these achievements will benefit our people, our citizens in the days to come.

The BRICS leaders made their respective country statements and they were all appreciative of Prime Minister Modi's guidance and leadership during the course of India's Chairship year, and the key issues and cooperation on the agenda, and they applauded the many deliverables. To give you a flavour of what was mentioned, from Brazil, they highlighted the strong BRICS cooperation, the intra BRICS cooperation, and the significant outcomes that have been achieved this year. They also mentioned about the importance of BRICS in working out changes in the global governance systems. And from Russia, we have President Putin who said that the theme was chosen very appropriately by India. It is very relevant for BRICS in the present times as BRICS turns 15, and he strongly supported BRICS cooperation. He also noted that the territory of Afghanistan in the context of his comments and terrorism, he also noted that the territory of Afghanistan should not be used for drug trafficking, or terrorism, also that they should not pose difficulties or be a problem for neighbours. And he also mentioned about the rise of certain radical movements, particularly of ISIS. And in this sense, there was a very strong endorsement of India's perspectives in this context, China to noted the very important outcomes that have been achieved under the India chair ship. They noted the impact of COVID and supported efforts in this regard. They also assured that China would continue to work with bricks in the spirit of consensus, with BRICS partners to meet the common challenges, and build a better future as they took over the Chairship of BRICS next year. South Africa also highlighted the impact of COVID and laid strong emphasis on the proposal for a TRIPS waiver in the WTO that had been mooted, as you recall by India and South Africa. They also mentioned the significant outcome of the movement towards setting up the Vaccine Research and Development Centre. This was mentioned by several of the participants today. And they also strongly welcomed the strengthening and reform of the multilateral system, the Joint Statement that was issued by the Foreign Ministers, which was a significant and a first time for BRICS.

At the conclusion of the Summit the BRICS leaders also adopted the New Delhi Declaration. The Declaration will be available on our website for your perusal, but I thought I would bring some of the main highlights of the New Delhi Declaration for you. Understandably, COVID was one of the issues that figured in this Declaration. And this was brought out that BRICS should be agenda setting for the post COVID recovery. There was also the need for cooperation on the study of the origins of the SARS Cov2 virus under the auspices of the WHO. It has also seen that extensive immunisation is a global public good. In this context, the role of traditional medicines and knowledge sharing is also done. One of the very important outcomes they already mentioned was the reference to the BRICS joint statement on strengthening and reform of the multilateral system which was adopted by the foreign ministers in the first of June. This talked about the relevance continuing relevance of the UN system and its ability to adapt to contemporary realities and how towards strengthening and reforming the multilateral system, it is necessary to have good governance but that is more responsive and agile, efficient, transparent, democratic, representative and accountable to member states. And in this context, reforming the UN and the UN Security Council in particular has been highlighted in this particular document. The Leaders also appreciated the role of India during its ongoing tenure as a UN Security Council member during the period 2021-22.

There was strong reference in the New Delhi Declaration to the BRICS Counterterrorism Action Plan as a measure for the implementation of the BRICS Counterterrorism Strategy. Leaders expressed strong condemnation of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, and committed themselves to combating terrorism in all its forms and manifestations again, and particularly of cross border movement of terrorists and terrorism financing networks and of safe havens. On Afghanistan, understandably, there was a lot of discussion, and there is a reference to that, in the Joint Statement, the New Delhi Declaration as well. Leaders called for refraining from violence and settling the situation by peaceful means in Afghanistan through an inclusive intra-Afghan dialogue, so as to ensure stability, civil peace, law and order in the country. They also underscored the priority of fighting terrorism, including preventing attempts by terrorist organisations to use Afghan territory as terrorist sanctuary to carry out attacks against other countries. And in this context, you also mentioned what President Putin had mentioned in his remarks. And he also emphasised, in the Declaration, that the humanitarian situation to uphold human rights, including those of women, children, and minorities. I may also add that President Bolsonaro in his remarks also referred to the central role of the UN Security Council in addressing the Afghan issue. There were several important agreements that came about as a result of the engagement with our partners, and many of these find reflection in the New Delhi Declaration, you will find details of all of them, but I just wanted to mention that some of them include the BRICS Remote Sensing Satellite Constellation, which is very useful ramifications terms of how we proceed on our development agenda, Agricultural Research Platform, Action Plan for the Agricultural Cooperation, there were similar understanding on climate change issues, and leaders appreciated NDB’s substantive progress in membership expansion.

An important pillar of BRICS cooperation, in addition to the political and security pillar, and the economic and financial pillar, is the importance of BRICS people to people exchanges, and how they promote mutual understanding, partnerships and friendship amongst people. I would like to close my comments here. And we will be open for your questions.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Sir thank you very much for a very comprehensive overview of discussions as well as the outcomes that have emanated from those discussions and the work that has gone into it during our Chairship of this process of the BRICS@15. As you said, sir understandably, there is a lot of attention on Afghanistan, in the discussions and also among our journalist friends. So let me begin on that topic of Afghanistan. I've got a lot of questions. I'll try to package them together. So because of the constraints of time, let me begin with Huma Siddiqui from the Financial Express. She asks, in view of the Afghanistan situation, what decision was taken by the grouping to deal with terror activities in the region? What about the drug menace that is expected to escalate under the new regime in Afghanistan? What details can be shared? We have Munish Gupta from PIO TV, asking about recognition of Taliban saying many countries are talking directly to Taliban some have recognised it. What was India's requested desire from BRICS summit on this issue, on-Taliban regime? Kadambini from NDTV asked भारत ने अफ़ग़ानिस्तान को लेकर क्या चिंताएँ सामने रखीं और बाक़ी देशों का भारत की विशेष चिंताओं के बारे में क्या कहना था?क्या तालिबान की सरकार को मान्यता देने की भी बात किसी देश ने उठाई? Madhurendra also asking a similar line saying ब्रिक्स की बैठक में तालिबान को लेकर क्या चर्चा हुई? 2017 के ब्रिक्स डिक्लियरेशन में तालिबान, हक्कनी नेटवर्क, जैश, लश्कर सहित सभी आतंकी संगठनों की भूमिका पर सवाल उठे और आतंकवाद को किसी भी स्वरूप में स्वीकार न करने पर सहमति बनी थी। क्या इस सहमति पर आज की बैठक में चीन कायम है? तालिबान को लेकर चीन के बदले रुख पर भारत ने क्या कहा?

Sidhant from WION asked how much was Afghanistan discussed during the meeting? What is the view on the new Taliban government? Is there a consensus among BRICS leaders in terms of the government in Kabul being inclusive? David Asta from EFE News Agency wants to know whether the BRICS leaders have reached a consensus on the situation and the future course of action in Afghanistan. Anita Joshua from Telegraph would like to know if Russia and China suggested any Afghanistan specific agenda for BRICS. And what was the details of the suggestions, what was the response to the other three countries, particularly India. Sir in your opening remarks, you have covered many of these elements. But if you could, again, touch about some of these other elements. Over to you.

Shri Sanjay Bhattacharyya, Secretary (CPV & OIA): Thank you. It does appear that there is a lot of interest in amongst my media friends about Afghanistan. Obviously, this was an issue that was touched upon, and there is a very strong reference to the Afghan issue in the New Delhi Declaration. So I would urge you all to go and look at what the Leaders’ consensus was. So the first thing that came out of the meeting on Afghanistan was that there is a very strong sense of consensus, which is supportive of our perspective on the developments in Afghanistan and in the region. There was a very strong condemnation of terrorism and that terrorism, Afghan territory should not be used either for terrorism or for drug trafficking, and that it should not cause or become a reason for problems in the neighbourhood. That is another sentiment that was there which I have also mentioned. There was also reference that the humanitarian aspects need to be looked at. And as I also mentioned, the role of the UN Security Council was also referred to in this context of Afghanistan, but you will find a very concise, but at the same time substantive reflection of the leadership in the New Delhi Declaration.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you, sir. I think you already highlighted many of the elements of the other leaders what they have said during the conversation itself, and I think that addresses many of the queries. If I could move on now to the issue of COVID-19 and vaccines, etc. Munish Gupta from PIO TV asked is there is the BRICS focusing on any common agenda or goals to deal with COVID crisis. Now, what about vaccine manufacturing and sharing for other needy nations, you know, vaccine approvals are not coming for Indian, Russian and Chinese vaccines. Sidhant from WION was asking about any discussion on COVID vaccine distribution on the lines of the Quad COVID Initiative, etc.

Shri Sanjay Bhattacharyya, Secretary (CPV & OIA): Thank you. Obviously COVID-19 is very much in the minds of all the leadership. This has been the second summit that we have had to do virtually because of the COVID situation. COVID, it was reflected in the discussions in at great length by all the leaders and also mentioned in the New Delhi Declaration. But let me summarise what it was. And I think Prime Minister kind of brought this up in the message that he said that BRICS today as we are working towards an agenda for the post-COVID agenda of economic recovery of working out how we deal with this pandemic would be one which would be of build back, resilience, innovation, credibility and sustainability. And I think this is in a sense how the reaction of all the leaders were on the issue of COVID. So the first thing that they all talked about was the need for extensive vaccination and for the development of vaccines. And in this context, the vaccine R&D Centre, which is now being proposed as a virtual network because in today's world, there are so many digital and technological solutions that are far more effective. The distribution of vaccines and all the BRICS members were very appreciative of our role, not only as a major country producing vaccines, but also distributing in times when we ourselves had large numbers who were affected by it. There was also this question about how do we work out the post COVID scenario and the economic recovery, so COVID was obviously a very key area of interest, and of how we work out a consensus and within the BRICS, there is a very strong understanding on this particular issue.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you sir. You had mentioned in your statement, sir, and we have queries on that, about reforms of the UN Security Council and Sidhant from WION wants to know, how much of the focus on reforms at the UN Security Council by countries like Russia and China, since the BRICS Foreign Ministers statement mentioned reforms in multilateral organisations.

Shri Sanjay Bhattacharyya, Secretary (CPV & OIA): So as you are aware, the document on the strengthening and reform of the multilateral system, which was adopted by the Foreign Ministers on the first of June, is an extremely significant one. There has been a feeling for a very long period of time that the multilateral system needs to respond to the challenges of global governance. And I had mentioned in my opening remarks as to how it needs to be far more effective, responsive, representative and democratic in that context, and in that the STROMS document, the strengthening and reform of the multilateral system, is one which outlines the details of how not only the UN and UN Security Council in particular, but also of various other institutions in the global governance system, need to see reform. And I think there was a strong echo of that right across. All the leaders talked about the importance of multilateralism and the importance of global governance. And I think the endorsement that they gave to the Foreign Ministers’ Joint Statement on STROMS is indication of the direction that we wish to see the reform of the multilateral system go.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you sir. Moving on to perhaps more economic side of it or other areas of cooperation. We have Huma Siddiqui from Financial Express, asking about the details of the space cooperation, military cooperation among BRICS nations. Dhairya from Sputnik also refers to, wants to draw the attention about this cooperation remote sensing satellite, of course, that question has other elements, I'll come to that separately. But perhaps just a few comments on this space cooperation.

Shri Sanjay Bhattacharyya, Secretary (CPV & OIA): I think space is the final frontier. And in many ways, the achievement of the heads of our space agencies in signing the space constellation agreement was a very, very significant one. Because what it essentially does is and we have seen it in our own country, so we know what it is because it enhances capabilities in research, and utilisation of data for development and for reaching out to the people because at the end of the day, any cooperation is worth only as much as it means to what it delivers to the people. So what this particular space constellation would do is that it would provide abilities and opportunities for greater research and exchange in utilisation and processing of data for issues related to climate change, disaster management, environmental protection, flood protection, water security, water management, even things like the larger Sustainable Development Goals. So this is a very, very important progress. And then in many ways, it is a stepping stone towards more cooperation in this very vital area.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Appreciate that sir. Sir, if you could just move on to the New Development Bank BRICS. Gautam Lahiri has referred to that and said, as Bangladesh is a new entrant in this New Development Bank of BRICS. Could you let us know the broad outline of taking up projects, infrastructure projects, in particular in future? He also goes on to say, can connectivity projects within South Asia be taken up in future perhaps under this framework? Separately, I have a query from Sidhant saying how much focus was on connectivity between BRICS countries. We also have some things which are not directly related to connectivity but more of economic cooperation. Ranjit Kumar from Rakshat News wants to know to decrease the dependence of the US Dollar a proposal was made to use national currencies in mutual trade to devise a common payment system was this discussed? Munish Gupta takes it further and said South Africa and Brazil are both dealing with civil crisis specific pandemic and badly hurting economies, any support to them internally? Of course, that's more in the bilateral area. And we have a query from Dhairya, as I mentioned, EAM had said that can't be business as usual with China, since the border standoff is dissolved. But we are taking steps to boost trade ties with BRICS members, including China, how do you comment on that? So that's broadly the flavour of the questions on cooperation and connectivity and trade, etc., Sir.

Shri Sanjay Bhattacharyya, Secretary (CPV & OIA): Thank you. That's a very large basket and an assorted one as well. But let me take them. BRICS, as you will understand is very unique grouping of emerging economies. And we are across different continents with very strong regional and global footprints. And therefore, what we do obviously has an important impact on various, on a range of issues. And therefore, as I said earlier, one of the very important pillars of BRICS cooperation and engagement is the economic and financial pillar. In that context, I must mention that BRICS has made very considerable progress in the last 15 years and the NDB is obviously like a flagship of that particular development in the economic financial sphere. Now, NDB was set up as the development infrastructure funding bank. To date it has had about 73 development projects, totalling about $29 billion of disbursements, and India has been a very active participant in the NDB projects process. So we have as many as 18 projects under NDB. With the total disbursement, we have absorbed about $9 billion, or $7 billion. So we are a very large participant, not only of NDB as a bank, but also in its projects. The whole idea of NDB to develop these infrastructure projects, and one of the ideas that was there has been to use digital, and technological means to advance social infrastructure. And in this context, many of the non BRICS members would also become active partners in this process. And as you know, currently, the NDB is in the process of advancing its membership and negotiations and discussions around with a range of countries. And on the second of September, the board of the NDB decided that Bangladesh, UAE and Uruguay would be new additional members of the NDB. Now this enhances the capacity and credibility and its outreach of the NDB in many ways. During the COVID situation NDB came up with a COVID Emergency Response Plan, totalling about $10 billion, and India was also a beneficiary under this. So NDB has played a very significant role. And I can only say that with the addition of new members, the first three of whom have already been announced, the strength of NDB will grow. And the ability of BRICS and the NDB to become more active agents in the development process will become even more active.

You had mentioned about the connectivity issues and the other aspects of economic cooperation. So the third pillar is actually one of the strongest connectivity, which is about the people to people and cultural exchanges. And I think it is important to understand that BRICS is actually about these emerging economies, building partnerships and friendships. And the manner in which the consensus based orientation of BRICS has been is that it's always a very happy family in which we always work collectively towards our common objectives. And so on this, I think there have been some very, very important outcomes that we have seen during the last year. We have had the agreement, the understanding on green tourism, we have also had the academic forum and the civil society, the civil forum meeting, and they came up with very constructive suggestions for how we can take BRICS forward. And I just wanted to remind you that NDB itself was an idea that came out of a recommendation from the Academic Forum in the past. In addition, there is cooperation various cultural fronts, including films cooperation, this is an idea that Prime Minister had brought up. And since then we have been engaged in other BRICS partners too in youth in sports. So, there are a range of activities in which this BRICS-connect, so to say happens. There is also a very important connect in the form of business. We had constituted the Women's Business Alliance last year to supplement the BRICS Business Council. And this has brought about not only a greater focus on the business activities, but also a certain gender balance, which is also so very welcome. But BRICS also has a very critical role in playing an important, and having an important voice in multilateral fora when it comes to WTO and other issues related to trade and investment. The trade ministers and the industry's ministers meet separately with their BRICS partners. And several initiatives are taken up. The economic content of this is one which is vital because as we move ahead and Prime Minister referred to this, today, he talked about as we move ahead on development, we will find that technology, particularly digital technology will be very, very relevant, as will be innovation, and therefore, BRICS must be at the forefront of bringing together its own energies in this particular context. The other participants, the Chinese and the Brazilian Presidents also referred to this about how we need to have much closer cooperation at the WTO when we work on new technologies, on new industry. And these will be the ways to go ahead.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Sir, thank you very much. I do believe that you have been able to exhaust all the large number of varied questions that have been posed by our journalist friends. Let me take this opportunity to thank again Shri Sanjay Bhattacharyya, Secretary (CPV & OIA), Sherpa of the BRICS process and Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs as well as to Shri. P. Harish Additional Secretary (ER), and Sous Sherpa of the BRICS process for being here and guiding this process and giving you a good flavour of what the BRICS Summit was, and what the outcomes have been. As Secretary sir mentioned, the New Delhi Declaration will be shared on our website and otherwise through social media. I do hope you will go through this important document and we look forward to connecting with you again in the future.

Thank you.

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