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Building a new power balance BRIC by BRIC

19 July 2012
by Guest author

Today’s post is from the Bertelsmann Foundation and was written by freelance journalist and editor Justine Doody

Western dominance of global financial and political institutions is about to end if the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) have anything to do with it. In June 2012, as Europe stumbled, the BRICS came to the rescue, pledging $75 billion to the IMF’s Eurozone bailout fund of $460 billion. The move illustrates the bloc’s increased importance in the global economy.

Najim Azahaf, project manager of the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s SGI project which analyses the governance structures and reform capacities of countries (and whose study on Sustainable Governance in the BRICS will be published this fall), claims that “the BRICS are about to change the power structure in the world economic system, and our study will provide a detailed profile of strengths and weaknesses in terms of institutional frameworks, government performance and governance capacity and help to answer central questions such as how sustainable their economic development is”.

It’s true that the BRICS’ growth has slowed in 2012, but their success in the downturn compared to the developed economies has seen their relative importance to the global economy skyrocket. Brazil, Russia, India and China accounted for 20 per cent of world economic output in 2012 according to the IMF, a fourfold increase in the last ten years. Along with South Africa, the grouping’s most recent member, the BRICS are home to 43 per cent of the world’s population. And they see in cooperation a way to make their mark on global governance, just as they have on the global economy.

One of the major motivations behind the BRICS’ cooperation is their shared desire to limit the power of the developed economies in the global financial system. Since its first summit in 2009, the group has sought changes to the structures of the IMF and the World Bank. At their March 2012 summit in New Delhi, the leaders of the BRICS again called on the IMF to implement quota reforms agreed at the G20 summit in 2010. The $75 billion promised to the bailout fund in June was given “in anticipation that all the reforms agreed upon in 2010 will be fully implemented in a timely manner, including a comprehensive reform of voting power and reform of quota shares”.

The BRICS agree that Western dominance of financial structures must end, but they have been slow to put forward suggestions for a new order. In New Delhi, they failed to unite around a candidate for the presidency of the World Bank and their action plan was heavy on agreements for future meetings but light on specific policy pronunciations.

This lack of specificity can be traced back to the considerable differences between the countries, on economic as well as on geopolitical issues. Russia is an energy exporter, and benefits from the high energy prices that threaten the manufacturing economies of India and China. Brazil profits from high food prices that disadvantage others in the bloc. China is a true economic superpower, where South Africa is a minnow. India’s population and economic potential is expanding quickly, while Russia’s is in decline.

On security, the bloc has to overcome mutual suspicions that stretch back generations. China and India have long-standing border disputes, and Russia fears that China has designs on Siberian resources. And the five countries have very different systems of government. India, Brazil and South Africa are democracies, China is a communist state, and Russia’s democratisation can at times appear in doubt.

But in spite of their divergences, the BRICS have found ways to work together that will impact their own development and that of the rest of the world. Intra-BRICS trade stood at $230 billion in 2011 and the group is targeting $500 billion by 2015. At the G20 summit in June 2012, the BRICS’ leaders discussed creating a joint safety net in the form of a reserve fund to be used to counter capital flight in any of the BRICS countries. The proposal should be finalised at the BRICS summit in 2013. At the New Delhi summit in March, they had already agreed to explore the creation of a joint development bank. The June declaration brought this plan closer to reality.

Financial cooperation will give the BRICS greater power to shape the world economy, but already, their influence has been felt across developed and developing economies alike. The BRICS’ involvement in development funding is growing. A study by Global Health Strategies showed that between 2005 and 2010, Brazil’s foreign assistance spending rose about 20 per cent a year, China’s grew by about 24 per cent, and India’s by 11 per cent – far more quickly than growth in development assistance from the G7 countries. And an IMF working paper in 2011 argued that the spillover effects of the BRICS’ good performance during the economic crisis added 0.3 to 1.1 percentage points to the growth of low-income countries.

The world is watching to find out whether the BRICS can provide an alternate engine of growth in a post-Western world, or whether their star will wane along with that of the developed economies. But in growth or decline, it is clear that their fortunes will have significant implications for the future of the global economy.

Useful links

Brazil, India, China and South Africa are key partners of the OECD.

On 30 November 2007, the OECD Council approved the roadmap to accession for the Russian Federation.

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