Noted: BRICS roundup

The BRICS have been very active in recent weeks. The significance of an alliance of Brazil, India, and China is not lost on many. But occasionally some have wondered whether Russia deserves to be in the group and South Africa’s entry last year raised a few eyebrows (and still does).

The Summit
Their summit in New Delhi, held on March 29, included a number of activities that suggest the group is strengthening its institutional bonds. Here is a brief description of some of their outputs:

The Delhi Declaration, capturing the essence of discussion as well as putting forth common position of BRICS countries on various economic and political issues of global and regional importance was issued at the end of the Summit. The Declaration included Delhi Action Plan which highlights the activities to be undertaken under India’s chairmanship of BRICS to further cooperation. Two agreements namely- “Master Agreement on Extending Credit Facility in Local Currencies” and “BRICS Multilateral Letter of Credit Confirmation Facility Agreement”- were signed by the Development Banks from BRICS countries. The Leaders also released “The BRICS Report” focusing on synergies and complementarities between the BRICS economies and highlighting their role as growth drivers of the world economy. An updated edition of BRICS Statistical Publication was also issued at the occasion.

They make a number of bids for their relevance to any future decision-making about the global economy. There is, for instance, this statement in their declaration:

BRICS is a platform for dialogue and cooperation amongst countries that represent 43% of the world’s population, for the promotion of peace, security and development in a multi-polar, inter-dependent and increasingly complex, globalizing world. Coming, as we do, from Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America, the transcontinental dimension of our interaction adds to its value and significance.

In a recent op-ed, Jeffrey Sachs worries about whether the multi-polar environment signaled by the rise of the BRICS means a loss of leadership at a time when the world needs a clear leader (Business Insider). Jeremiah Kure at Mail & Guardian’s Thought Leader voices a thought commonly heard in some corners of the developing world: maybe it is about time the US and the North Atlantic-led world order change.

The Global Economy
The clearest place where the BRICS are trying to have an impact involves the global economy. This year was only their fourth summit, but their action items are getting clearer. Collectively, they have a lot of potential to collaborate on financial and economic matters (Ghosh). One of their more tangible plans is the launching of a development bank in the first quarter of next year and apparently located in South Africa (Reuters). While this definitely provides a challenge for the other global IFIs, the BRICS are not yet giving up on the IMF and World Bank. They are just repeating their previous bid for greater voice in those global institutions. Most recently, they told the IMF they would provide more cash if they could expand their decision-making role (Reuters). Of course, there is some irony that it is euro-zone countries that are in need of this cash.

The BRICS also have not given up on the WTO’s Doha Round of trade negotiations.

we will explore outcomes in specific areas where progress is possible while preserving the centrality of development and within the overall framework of the single undertaking (ICTSD)

Beyond Economics and Finance
Security
The BRICS agenda is not solely economic. Their own agreement that they are not bound by the West’s decisions to sanction Iran (which they definitely are not, legally), suggests they are interested in flexing some political muscle as well. (And it is useful to note that the only BRICS country NOT to ever have had nuclear weapons is Brazil, although it did have a bit of a program for a brief period of time.)

Climate Change
Unfortunately, the BRICS also seem unlikely to provide leadership on climate change. Their priorities are clearly on economic development. This is what they state in their declaration:

We affirm that the concept of a ‘green economy’, still to be defined at Rio+20, must be understood in the larger framework of sustainable development and poverty eradication and is a means to achieve these fundamental and overriding priorities, not an end in itself. National authorities must be given the flexibility and policy space to make their own choices out of a broad menu of options and define their paths towards sustainable development based on the country’s stage of development, national strategies, circumstances and priorities. We resist the introduction of trade and investment barriers in any form on the grounds of developing green economy.