Thursday, 4 April 2013

The BRICS Group: A New Coalition


(L-R) Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Chinese President Xi Jinping, South African President Jacob Zuma, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Russian President Vladimir Putin applaud at a photo session during the fifth BRICS Summit in Durban, March 27, 2013. (photo by REUTERS/Rogan Ward)

By: Haifa Zaaiter Translated from As-Safir (Lebanon).
اقرا المقال الأصلي باللغة العربية

Senior Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill predicted in 2001 that the combined economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China will overtake those of the US and the G-7 countries by mid-century. Seven years after the global financial crisis, the “prophecy” became true.

A few years ago, the BRICS group announced from Russia the establishment of a global system to face Western dominance. Since then, the group has been on a common economic/political path amid external and internal challenges. The group has just concluded its fifth summit in South Africa.

As the BRICS group closed ranks economically and politically, the US and major countries have looked with consternation at the emerging group’s capabilities and at the danger it posed to the geo-strategic map, globally and in the Arab region.

The fifth summit: Syria first … then Iran

The BRICS summit in Durban [March 26-27] coincided with the Arab League summit in Doha [March 21-27]. The Durbin summit was attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and South African President Jacob Zuma. Their stance was clear: No to the militarization of the Syrian crisis. They condemned human rights violations in Syria and appealed to “all parties” to enable humanitarian agencies to deliver aid.

Russia leads the BRICS’s policy on Syria, as confirmed by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. He said that “the BRICS’s position on the Syrian crisis is as close to the Russian position as it can be.”

In a letter to South African President Zuma, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad asked him to “help put an immediate end to the violence in Syria to ensure the success of the political solution, which requires a clear international will to stop the sources, funding and arming of terrorism.”

The letter came after Syrian presidential advisor Bouthaina Shaaban visited both India and South Africa to obtain clear support from those countries. Since the BRICS group was established, it was seen by Damascus as a counterweight to the US-led Western axis, which has control or influence over international and regional organizations.

Unlike the US-led Western axis, the BRICS group tends not to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries and tries to stay out of internal conflicts. Officials and diplomats who spoke with As-Safir reporter Ziad Haider expressed their hopes that the BRICS group maintains its support for the Geneva Accord to solve the Syrian crisis but without directly intervening in Syria.

On Iran, the BRICS group expressed its concern about the risk of military escalation and asserted that “there is no alternative to a negotiated solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis … Iran has the right to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes in the framework of its international obligations.”

Goodbye to the World Bank?

The BRICS group discussed establishing a development bank. That project seriously threatens the economic domination of the “Old North,” as the French newspaper Le Monde put it. The development bank would help end the dependency on the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

The new bank is expected to start with a $50 billion dollars capital, or $10 billion dollars per BRICS state.

Although the summit did not give final approval to establish the development bank, Zuma announced “the formal launching of negotiations in St. Petersburg in Sept. to establish a new bank dedicated to our infrastructure needs.”

Since the BRICS group has so far failed to establish joint bodies, some newspapers said that the development bank will remain “symbolic.” The magazine Foreign Policy pointed out the different growth rates between the five countries. South Africa has low growth rate and productivity, unlike India or Brazil. Russia, which is the smallest country in the BRICS, has an economy that is four times that of South Africa. Also, why would China want to invest in a development bank?

But BRICS officials saw that postponing the decision is normal for a project of this magnitude. A Russian diplomatic source told As-Safir that such a project cannot be completed in a short period of time. It takes time to establish a bank that can face the global economic challenges. The source said that there is a project to establish a business council that coordinates the economic cooperation between the five countries. He also pointed out the importance of the Moscow visit by the Chinese president. He stressed that the summit was a new step to develop the organization, which has avoided holding symbolic meetings.

Morsi and “EBRICS”

In the summit, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi sought to restore confidence in the Egyptian economy and improve relations with Africa, which have been strained for decades. In a highly optimistic move, Morsi wished that Egypt can join the BRICS group when Egypt’s economy improves, thus changing the name of the group to “EBRICS.” Morsi gave a speech outlining Egypt’s vision on how to enhance cooperation among African countries.

BRICS’s strengths and challenges

During the past few years, the BRICS group has made an important niche for itself within the international community. The BRICS countries are the fastest growing in the world and the least affected by the financial crisis.

The BRICS group differs from other international coalitions by not having political, economic or cultural links. Its members come from four continents and their level of development varies. The reason why BRICS was created was to reject Western dominance over the global economy and politics. They hold similar positions on Syria, Iran, Afghanistan and the Middle East.

What distinguishes BRICS from other coalitions is also its challenge. It is true that they have some common positions, but they wildly disagree on the priorities. Observers note how China is flooding the Brazilian market with inexpensive shoes, and South Africa with clothes. They also note how India has put tariffs on some Chinese products, and the disagreement between Moscow and Beijing on Russian oil prices, and other differences.
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