South Africa will host the BRICS Vaccine Research Centre
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in his media briefing wrapping up the progress of the Tenth BRICS Summit mentioned the defence of the multilateral trading system first, but also highlighted the importance of the BRICS outreach programme as South Africa had hosted 31 countries in addition to its BRICS partners.
“The BRICS Summit is not just a talk shop as we draw up specific proposals that result in action. We also want to enhance people-to-people interaction so we are looking at establishing a BRICS Games that will include traditional games. In addition we want to look at the hosting of film and arts festivals so that we grow the ties that bind us together,” Ramaphosa said.
In the open session chaired by Ramaphosa on Thursday, the BRICS leaders expressed a desire for the group to consolidate their cooperation within various other international institutions, including the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the United Nations (UN).
In the Johannesburg Declaration signed by Brazilian President Michel Temer, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Ramaphosa, the leaders argued that the multilateral trading system was “facing unprecedented challenges”.
“We call on all WTO members to abide by WTO rules and honour their commitments in the multilateral trading system,” the Johannesburg Declaration stated.
In his remarks, Xi said the BRICS countries should actively move to safeguard the rules-based trading system and “reject protectionism outright”.
In his opening speech on Wednesday, Xi said those countries which started trade wars only end up hurting themselves.
He said the Chinese approach was based on three pillars, namely an open economy, which China had implemented in 1978, the pursuit of innovation as human progress over the millennia had been driven by science and technology and lastly, inclusive growth with due concern for the environmental impact.
That is why he had instituted a crackdown on corruption as that benefited only a few to the detriment of the majority.
As part of his implementing the open economy, China would host an Import Expo in November to encourage Chinese companies to import more, especially from its BRICS partners.
Xi also encouraged his other BRICS heads of state to continue to broaden the ‘BRICS-plus’ network to other emerging and developing countries to widen support for greater international openness and inclusiveness.
In addition to its BRICS partners, South Africa hosted a further 31 countries at the summit, which together with the BRICS accounted for more than half of humanity and global gross domestic product.
Putin stated that the BRICS had taken on the characteristics of a “real strategic partnership”, and proposed that greater efforts should be made to foster people-to-people exchanges between the five countries.
The leaders also welcomed the establishment of the Partnership on New Industrial Revolution (PartNIR), for which an advisory group had been created to support full operationalisation. The PartNIR was expected to deepen BRICS cooperation “to maximise the opportunities and address the challenges arising from the Fourth Industrial Revolution”.
Modi said that, in future “talent would become more important than capital”.
However, he also cautioned that there was a risk that the Fourth Industrial Revolution could worsen inequality.
Temer stressed the need to recalibrate education and training systems to ensure that citizens were equipped to the changing demands of economies that would include greater levels of automation and artificial intelligence.
Ramaphosa said advances in technology had the potential to improve livelihoods and boost productivity, stressing that changes were not merely a digital revolution, but a fundamental shift in the way people lived and worked.
“However, unless it is approached in a collaborative manner, underpinned by a developmental agenda, rapid technological change could merely serve to entrench existing disparities within and between countries,” Ramaphosa cautioned.
In his question and answer session with the media on Friday he was at pains to stress that a nuclear deal with Russia was off the table as South Africa could not afford it currently, but it remained part of the long term energy mix, together with coal, hydro and other renewables.
“We discussed this with President Putin in our bilateral and he was very relaxed about our position. He said once we get the economy growing again at a healthy pace, then we should re-examine the Russian proposal on nuclear,” Ramaphosa said.
He also announced that the BRICS partners had agreed to the South African proposal to set up a BRICS Vaccine Research Centre.
This centre will be hosted by South Africa but the details in terms of funding, mandate such as whether it concentrates on human diseases only or does it include animal diseases, and location of the research centre must still be worked out.
South Africa has a long history of being at the forefront of vaccine research with the German bacteriologist, Robert Koch, receiving the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1905 for his discovery of a rinderpest vaccine, while he was working in South Africa.
This episode highlighted the cooperation between the private sector and government, which has been one of the hallmarks of South African proposals.
The BRICS Business Council was first proposed at the BRICS Summit in 2013 held at Durban.
Robert Koch was brought to South Africa by the Cape Government to investigate and find a cure for a cattle plague, which broke out during the last decade of the 19th century.
Koch’s stay in Kimberley was sponsored by the De Beer’s Company and the Kimberley-based Diamond Fields Advertiser. During his stay he found that an inoculation of bile from an infected animal safeguarded the rest of the herd.
Koch propounded the theory that ‘one germ causes one disease- every disease has its specific germ’ and took the first step in vaccine therapy with his rinderpest inoculation.
The rinderpest epidemic of the 1890’s was apparently the first in Africa; it swept through a whole continent of susceptible animals at a time when the only country to have a veterinary service was Cape Colony. It was as devastating to hoofed animals as the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918/20 was to humans and had a mortality rate of close to 90% for antelopes, buffalo, cattle, eland, giraffe, kudu and wildebeest.
South Africa currently has a vaccine research program for AIDS as South Africa has the largest number of people of any country that are HIV positive, so one of the priorities of the BVRC will be to develop a vaccine for AIDS, while a vaccine for malaria will also enjoy high priority.
In addition to the establishment of the BVRC, the BRICS will also establish a BRICS Woman’s Forum that will empower women.
Helmo Preuss in Johannesburg, South Africa for The BRICS Post