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BRICS Nations Call For ‘Open’ Global Trade, Decry ‘Protectionism’

A police officer walks past a billboard outside the BRICS summit meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, on July 25.
A police officer walks past a billboard outside the BRICS summit meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, on July 25.

The five BRICS nations have reaffirmed their support for an "open world economy" based on the principles of the World Trade Organization (WTO), as the countries' leaders look to avoid a looming global trade war.

The formal communique signed on July 26 at the 10th BRICS summit in the South African city of Johannesburg declared that "we recognize that the multilateral trading system is facing unprecedented challenges."

“We underscore the importance of an open world economy," the document signed by the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa stated.

"We call on all WTO members to abide by WTO rules," it said.

The meeting of BRICS leaders, along with others outside the group -- including Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan -- came as the risk of a global trade war looms over markets in the wake of U.S. President Donald Trump's threats to impose tariffs on imports from China, Europe, Russia, Canada, Mexico, and elsewhere over what he calls "unfair" trade practices.

The closing statement echoed those made in a speech earlier in the day by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who called for united efforts by global institutions such as the United Nations, the G7, and the WTO to fight unilateralism and protectionism.

"We must work safeguard the rule-based multilateral trading regime; promote trade and investment, globalization and facilitation; and reject protectionism outright," Xi said.

Trump has accused China of "vicious" and unfair trade practices. He has imposed tariffs on $34 billion of Chinese imports and threatened to increase the amount to $500 billion.

China has retaliated with tariffs on U.S. products, including soybeans and pork.

Positive Sign?

China, the European Union, India, and Russia have applied to the WTO to challenge the duties imposed by the United States on their countries' products. The Switzerland-based WTO was founded in 1995 and regulates international trade among participating countries.

In a possible positive sign, the United States and the EU on July 25 appeared to step back from a potential trade war, agreeing to begin talks to tear down barriers and holding off on threats to impose new duties on cars.

The announcement was light on details, however, and many rounds of negotiations are expected between the Americans and Europeans before a settlement is reached.

At the BRICS summit, meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomed closer cooperation between businesses in the BRICS nations and called for more trade within the bloc.

He also highlighted the cooperation of the nations in the bloc on matters outside of economics.

"The BRICS countries fight the most serious challenges and threats to peace and stability together. They cooperate in combating terrorism, extremism, illegal drug trafficking, and transborder crime," he said.

'Concerted Efforts'

The summit declaration stated that "we deplore the continued terrorist attacks, including in some BRICS countries. We condemn terrorism in all its forms and manifestations wherever committed and by whomsoever."

It called for "concerted efforts" under "UN auspices" to counter terrorism and urged nations to prevent the financing of terrorist networks on their territory, without specifying any countries.

The BRICS leaders also called on all parties to "fully comply" with their obligations under the 2015 nuclear deal signed by Iran with six world powers.

The United States has withdrawn from the pact, which provided Tehran with some relief from sanctions in return for curbs on Iran's nuclear program. Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China, which also signed, have vowed to remain a part of the deal.

The BRICS represent more than 40 percent of the world's population.

The 2019 summit is scheduled for Brazil, and the 12th gathering is tentatively scheduled for Chelyabinsk in Russia in 2020.

With reporting by AP, dpa, AFP, Reuters, and Interfax