The G20 leaders’ meeting held earlier this month in Hamburg attracted a lot of attention. There were several important economic and geo-political issues that were on the table for discussion. Another important engagement that took place on the sidelines of the G20 meet was the informal meeting of the BRICS heads of states. This meeting was equally important as it was held in the run-up to the summit meeting in Xiamen. At the meeting, the leaders agreed to carry forward co-operation activities amongst the five BRICS countries and play an increasingly important role in global economy, committing to support a rules-based, transparent, non-discriminatory, open and inclusive multilateral trading system and oppose protectionism.

This is important from a business perspective too. Improved economic relations amongst BRICS countries will help enhance trade and investments within the bloc, and contribute to growth and development. BRICS Business Council, set up in 2013, comprising business representatives from BRICS has been engaged through dialogue and exchange of ideas to strengthen trade, investment and economic co-operation.

Last year’s BRICS Summit under India’s presidency set a new benchmark of taking BRICS co-operation to a much higher and wider scale, with the launch of initiatives like the first BRICS trade fair, first BRICS film festival, first BRICS under-17 football cup, etc. Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid a strong emphasis on people-to-people exchange under BRICS co-operation and it is good to see that several such co-operation mechanisms have been carried forward this year by China, which currently holds BRICS presidency.  In-fact, at the second BRICS film festival held in Chengdu, China in June 2017, the first BRICS co-production, Where Has Time Gone, was premiered, which is a joint collaboration of directors from BRICS countries. The filmmakers agreed to continue their joint work in the coming years. On a related note, the Indian film Dangal’s premiere in China met with astounding success, setting an example of fostering closer connect amongst BRICS countries and how soft power can be leveraged to enhance understanding about our societies and cultures. Likewise, BRICS games opened in Guangzhou, China in June 2017, where 300 athletes participated. Continuing such people-to-people exchange is essential as this brings our countries closer and enhances trade and investments.

On BRICS economic and business engagements too, several activities are ongoing at the government and business levels. At the BRICS Summit last year in Goa, the BRICS Business Council made several recommendations to the BRICS leaders. Some of these recommendations have found reference in government’s agenda and are progressing well. One of the proposals of the Council was to establish a BRICS Rating Agency, to provide a more thorough and complete credit rating analysis of companies in BRICS economies and facilitate cross-border investors to take a more informed decision. The proposal found a reference in BRICS Goa Declaration. At the informal meeting of BRICS leaders on the sidelines of the G20 meet, PM Modi called for action to establish the BRICS Rating Agency. On this subject, a special expert group has been set up under the aegis of the BRICS Business Council to work out the modalities of such an agency based on market oriented principles. We expect the group to present its progress report at the BRICS Summit in China.

The Business Council had also supported bilateral Social Security Agreement amongst BRICS countries to ease the burden of dual social security contributions in member countries. Earlier this year, the negotiations for the first bilateral Social Security Agreement among BRICS nations were officially concluded between India and Brazil and the agreement is expected to be in force by early 2018. We hope that more such agreements between BRICS nations will materialise in due course.

One of the most significant achievements of BRICS has been setting up of New Development Bank, which is progressing at a steady pace and is expected to play a critical role in supporting developmental projects in the BRICS economies. The BRICS Business Council has been interacting with the NDB to build closer partnership and facilitate funding for key developmental projects. Earlier this year, BRICS Business Council members met NDB president and vice-presidents at New Delhi, where they deliberated on areas of co-operation, especially for project identification, pipeline development and knowledge exchange. In fact, it was proposed that BRICS Business Council and NDB should enter into a formal agreement for strategic co-operation. Once accomplished, this will be another major step forward.

Over the last four years, the work of the BRICS Business Council has expanded and engagements are not limited to business to business levels, but also include meaningful interactions with the government and the New Development Bank. It is heartening to see an alignment of businesses led discussions and activities and government’s work agenda in BRICS. Private sector engagement at various ministerial conferences of BRICS has been on a rise. A BRICS Agricultural Cooperation Forum involving private sector was recently held in Nanjing on the sidelines of the meeting of BRICS Ministers of Agriculture. Likewise, the BRICS Communications Ministers’ meeting scheduled in July 2017 has exclusive industry dialogues as part of the agenda.

BRICS Business Council is committed to strengthen business and economic co-operation and will continue to work with our respective governments to create a favourable business environment through reforms, facilitate trade through easy visas, exchange of information, single window mechanism, and to eliminate administrative barriers to investment. Some of the other areas that are being actively pursued under the Chinese Presidency of the Council include creation of a mechanism to share experience in digital economy, provide support to SMEs through financial services platform as well as leverage e-commerce tools for greater business engagements.

Onkar S. Kanwar is Chairman, BRICS Business Council (India Chapter) and past President, FICCI