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BRICS foreign ministers to discuss Covid-19, countering terror at virtual meeting

External affairs minister S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi are set to come face to face, albeit in a virtual format, on Tuesday during a meeting of foreign ministers of the BRICS grouping that is expected to focus on the response to the Covid-19 pandemic and global and regional issues.

India is hosting the virtual meeting of the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa group (BRICS) as its current chair. It will also be joined by Brazil’s Carlos Alberto Franco França, Russia’s Sergey Lavrov and South Africa’s Grace Naledi Mandisa Pandor. The rotating BRICS chair will pass to China in 2022.

The meeting is being held against the backdrop of a dragging military standoff between India and China in the Ladakh sector of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) that has severely strained ties between the two countries.

The foreign ministers are expected to exchange views on the Covid-19 pandemic, the need to reform the multilateral system to enhance its capacity to effectively address contemporary challenges, countering terrorism, sustainable development, global and regional issues, and ways to enhance intra-BRICS cooperation, the external affairs ministry said on Monday.

The meeting will also prepare the grounds for the BRICS Summit to be hosted by India later this year, though the members of the grouping are yet to decide if it will be in-person or virtual.

This is the third time India is holding the position of chair of BRICS after 2012 and 2016, and this has coincided with the 15th anniversary of the grouping. People familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity that meetings such as the one bringing together the foreign ministers on Tuesday are also an opportunity to review the work of BRICS to ensure greater efficiency and relevance.

The theme for India’s chairmanship of BRICS is “BRICS@15: Intra-Brics cooperation for continuity, consolidation and consensus,” and the country’s priorities include reforming the multilateral system, counter-terror cooperation, and digital and technological tools for attaining the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The BRICS’ foreign ministers first met in 2006, and over the past 15 years, the scope of the grouping has expanded to include strategic issues such as counter-terror and cyber security, and new areas of cooperation such as healthcare, and disaster management.

The BRICS New Development Bank (NDB) has so far approved 76 projects worth more than $28 billion in the BRICS countries. A total of 18 projects worth $6.9 billion have been approved in India, including a loan of $2 billion under the emergency assistance programme in combating Covid-19.

With the pandemic pushing millions into poverty and disrupting progress in achieving the SDGs, India will use its chairmanship of BRICS to frame practical measures with members of the grouping to harness digital and technological tools and solutions to achieve goals in healthcare, poverty, hunger, education and infrastructure.

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