India has “open mind” for expansion of BRICS: Foreign Secretary Kwatra

New Delhi:¬†Ahead of the BRICS summit in Johannesburg, India on Monday said it has a “positive intent” and an “open mind” for the expansion of the five-nation grouping.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is visiting the South African city from August 22 to 24 to attend the 15th BRICS summit at the invitation of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. It will be the first in-person summit of BRICS comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa, since 2019.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has already decided not to travel to Johannesburg for the summit.

Prime Minister Modi is scheduled to leave for Johannesburg on Tuesday morning.

From Johannesburg, Modi will travel to Greece where he will hold wide-ranging talks with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on broadening overall ties between the two countries.

Asked at a media briefing whether Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping will hold talks on the sidelines of the BRICS summit, Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra only said that the schedule of prime minister’s bilateral meetings is being finalised.

“We have a positive intent and an open mind when it comes to BRICS expansion,” Kwatra said.

The foreign secretary said the modalities for inclusion of new members into the BRICS are being discussed among the Sherpas of the grouping.

“I would not want to prejudge the outcome of the discussions,” he said.

Kwatra said there is considerable interest in joining the grouping by various countries. Twenty-three countries have submitted their applications to join the BRICS and Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Argentina have emerged as strong contenders for the grouping’s membership.

The BRICS works on the principle of consensus and all member states have to have full consensus on how they would want it to be expanded and what should be the guiding principles of that expansion, he said.

The BRICS brings together five of the largest developing countries of the world, representing 41 per cent of the global population, 24 per cent of the global GDP and 16 per cent of the global trade.

On Tuesday, Modi is scheduled to participate in the BRICS Business Forum leaders’ dialogue and the BRICS leaders’ retreat.

The main BRICS summit will be held on August 23 and it will comprise two sessions — one on cooperation within the grouping, reform of the multilateral system and counter-terrorism and the other on global economic recovery, sustainable development goals (SDGs) and priorities of the Global South.

Modi will participate in the BRICS-Africa outreach session and the BRICS-plus dialogue on August 24.

Asked whether the BRICS is contemplating having a common currency and a free trade agreement, the foreign secretary said the discussions largely focussed on trade in the national currency.

He said there are “several prerequisites before you can even talk of a common currency framework”.

Modi’s visit to Athens assumed significance as it would be the first prime ministerial visit from India since then PM Indira Gandhi visited Greece in September 1983.

Then Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou visited India thrice — in November 1984 for Indira Gandhi’s funeral, in January 1985 to attend a summit on nuclear disarmament and in January 1986 on a bilateral state visit as the chief guest for the Republic Day function.

Kwatra said both sides will look to expand and diversify trade and investment cooperation, besides exploring possibilities to deepen defence and security partnership, during PM Modi’s visit to Athens.