The Rise of the BRICS

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs

May 13, 2012

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision not to attend the G8 summit in Camp David later this week—and to instead send Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev—has drawn the ire of the hosts. The decision can be read as a sign of Mr. Putin’s displeasure with those who question the legitimacy of his return to the Russian presidency.

More fundamentally, however, the decision ought to be read as further evidence of the questionable relevancy of the G8 as a platform for global dialogue. It is one thing for the Western alliance to gather as a security grouping, as they are doing in Chicago on May 20-21 for the NATO summit. But, as the global coordinating body of the leading economies, the G8 has outlived its relevancy.

While the G7 governments—the finance grouping within the G8 minus Russia—try to avoid the perception that their gathering is now "summitry for summitry’s sake," others around the world are reorienting themselves to the shift in the global balance of power that has been ongoing for the past decade with the ascent of the rising economies.

As the G7/8 leaders gather at Camp David, the “BRICS” countries—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—are planning new steps to self-organize, including plans for a new intra-BRICS development bank. These are moves that could turn into what the New York Times called a "potentially bold challenge to the world financial order." One Chinese news source reported that the proposed joint bank will be set up in the mold of the World Bank to allow countries to pool resources for infrastructure development. It could eventually act as a vehicle for emergency lending during a global financial or monetary crisis.

While analysts caution that the initiative remains in its nascency and details are still to be worked out (including the governance arrangements for the joint bank), steps are nonetheless being taken to move the concept toward reality. Aziz Pahad, leader of the South African delegation to the fourth BRICS Academic Forum in Delhi in March 2012, stated that the BRICS must focus on opportunities for contextual policymaking rather than follow the West.

Equally revealing in terms of ambition, Mr. Sudhir Vyas, Secretary of Economic Relations in India’s Ministry of External Affairs and India’s Sherpa to the BRICS Summit in Delhi, urged policy researchers from the BRICS nations to strive to build the “world’s default go-to institutions and agendas” for meeting the global challenges that all BRICS nations face.

Whatever the difficulties in promoting further cooperation among the BRICS, the rising countries are bringing their economies into closer alignment. Trade between these countries increased 28 percent per annum over the past ten years, and total trade amounted to $230 billion in 2010. They are aiming to double the trade total to $500 billion by 2015. At their recent summit in Delhi, the BRICS also established new financing and currency agreements.

The United States is at a crossroads. The Obama administration needs to determine with greater clarity what tangible value the G7/8 process offers. In other words: what cannot be accomplished in other forums? It looks increasingly like the G7/8 should be treated as a forum for caucusing among the “likeminded” Western alliance and for preparing for the main game: the dialogue with the rising powers through both formal multilateral institutions (e.g. the UN Security Council) and the informal G20 Leaders process.

Most important, it is time for the United States to prioritize more robust and serious engagement with the rising economies or else risk their gradual disengagement from the G20 process and their selective participation in the formal institutions that govern the world economy.

The opinions expressed in this article/multimedia are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI or its Board of Directors.

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