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In swipe at US, BRICS hit out at protectionism

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Brasília (AFP)

Five of the biggest emerging economies railed against protectionism on Thursday as they vowed to overcome "significant challenges" facing multilateralism, in a swipe at US tariffs and unilateral action.

In a joint declaration, BRICS countries -- Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa -- said "trade tensions and policy uncertainty have taken a toll on confidence, trade, investment and growth" in the global economy.

"It is critical that all WTO members avoid unilateral and protectionist measures," they said.

"We reiterate the fundamental importance of a rules-based, transparent, non-discriminatory, open, free and inclusive international trade."

And the BRICS "reaffirm our commitment to helping overcome the significant challenges currently facing multilateralism."

The United States is locked in a protracted trade war with BRICS titan China, while it also has sanctions on Venezuela, whose president Nicolas Maduro is backed by Beijing and Moscow.

The statement, issued on the second day of the annual BRICS gathering, made no mention of the economic and political crisis raging in Venezuela -- an issue that has divided the emerging markets group.

More than 50 countries, including Brazil, recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as acting president earlier this year after rejecting Maduro's re-election as fraudulent.

The other BRICS back Maduro.

Guaido supporters partially occupied the country's embassy in Brasilia on Wednesday, a few kilometers from where the BRICS were holding talks.

The standoff with Maduro backers ended after Guaido's appointed ambassador Teresa Belandria ordered them to leave for security reasons.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin have repeatedly slammed protectionism during the BRICS meeting, also attended by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

"Mounting protectionism and bullyism have eroded international trade and investment and are weighing down the world economy," Xi told business leaders on Wednesday.

Putin said "protectionism was thriving" amid the use of "unilateral sanctions."

Bolsonaro said earlier Thursday he would not get involved in a trade war, in an apparent attempt to distance himself from the two men and avoid upsetting his key ally, US President Donald Trump.

While there have been no major announcements, the BRICS summit has given Bolsonaro the chance to deepen ties with Xi -- a relationship that only months ago looked to be in jeopardy.

Signalling a pragmatic approach to Brazil's biggest trade partner, Bolsonaro said Wednesday that China was becoming "more and more" part of the Latin American country's future.

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