BRICS for a new world

From Cold War to Hot Peace: Why BRICS matters

13 July 2015 2:47PM, Article, Lowyinterpreter
Original link is here

As BRICS leaders met in Ufa, Russia, for their annual meeting late last week, there were expectations and anxieties galore. The group met as tensions between Russia and NATO rose, Europe’s circus of the absurd (the Greece crisis) continued, impending global agreements on sustainable development and climate action were being negotiated, and celebrations for the 70th anniversary of the UN approached in New York. All of this at a time when the liberal international order was shown to be inept at managing radicalism, barbarism, parochialism and illiberalism across the world.

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The BRICS member states are also experiencing their own specific political moments. Russia is struggling to cope up with the dynamics of the energy sector economy and is involved in an intractable conflict in its neighborhood. Brazil seems to have lost the ‘Lula mojo’ and is fighting economic and political inner demons. South Africa and its enthusiasm for being the gateway to Africa has suffered a body blow with reports of a series of fatal attacks on African migrants. India is pre-occupied with rewriting its story under the tireless outreach of Prime Minister Modi, who is exclusively focused on reshaping India’s economic trajectory. And then there is China, which is putting together the plans and institutions that might soon constitute the ‘Beijing Consensus’ that could dominate the geo-economic landscape over the next few decades.

The 77-paragraph outcomes statement from the summit was inevitably going to be a list of ideas that would cater to different expectations and aspirations of each of its members.

What BRICS means for Russia

For Russia, the political takeaways are the key. If one was to go through the list of Russian proposals on BRICS cooperation in the months leading up to the summit (some at the official level others at track II dialogues), you would detect an aspiration to create a political aggregation among the BRICS collective. These proposals included an ambitious agreement on cyber security, cooperation on outer space, peace and conflict treaties, a proposal on planetary defence, a new agreement on non-aggression and peaceful co-existence, non-proliferation arrangements around new technologies and even a new arms control and export control regime.

As Russia’s global legitimacy shrinks, the role of BRICS as a legitimising platform becomes more important for Moscow.

For many Russians, the world has moved on from the Cold War of the last century to the ‘Hot Peace’ of the current one. To them, BRICS must be a force for stability, and one that can counter what they see as the eastward expansion of the Atlantic alliance. That the official statement covers some of these Russian ideas (watered down, no doubt) is Russia’s gain.

What BRICS means for China

The import of BRICS for the Chinese is starkly different. They are in the process of resetting some key rules that have defined postwar geo-politics and geo-economics. To them, BRICS may be another platform that will institutionalise and promote those facets of global engagement that benefit China. While confrontation between Russia and NATO is something from which Beijing would wish to keep a healthy distance, China’s leaders realise that a beleaguered Russia offers them a chance to consolidate their ‘March west’ agenda, through the central Asian and Eurasian landmass and into the heart of the EU.

Still, never in their wildest dreams would China’s leaders have imagined the servility Russia is now demonstrating.

A Russia that once killed the opportunity to integrate with Western Europe because Moscow was unwilling to play anything less than ‘big brother’ now seems willing to play second fiddle to the Chinese dragon. Such was the level of kowtowing to China’s ambitions and agenda that many at the track II meetings over the past couple of months remarked that Russia had officially replaced South Africa as China’s ‘B Team’ within BRICS. One Russian proposition went so far as to suggest that the New Development Bank (NDB; a joint BRICS development bank but one which is strongly influenced by Beijing) must support and lend to the Chinese One Belt One Road initiative. This was reminiscent of the concentration of all financial flows in the past century serving to reinforce US power.

But for Beijing, BRICS could offer three key benefits vital for its national project. First, BRICS offers a truly large economic landscape on which the experiment to internationalise the Renminbi could begin. The NDB, the trade cooperation agreement and the economic cooperation pact among BRICS could facilitate this. The second key advantage has to be diversification of the Chinese product market by moving towards an eventual BRICS Free Trade Zone, seeds for which were planted in Ufa.

The final advantage of BRICS for China is the affirmation it gives to the legitimacy of the Chinese system, something no democratic bloc has accorded Beijing before. Outside the BRICS context, it’s hard to imagine Brazil, South Africa and India discussing, defending and promoting the Beijing Consensus, which is premised on everything these three democracies otherwise abhor. BRICS gives the Chinese dragon the license to drive a wedge in the liberal order.

What BRICS means for South Africa

South Africa is a BRICS anomaly; it is dwarfed in demographic and physical size by the others in the group. Yet it is this anomaly that makes the BRICS gambit so important for South Africa – effectively acting as its ticket into the big league. Pretoria has been promised a regional hub of the BRICS bank, which means South Africa will be the node for BRICS into Africa. This puts a potent tool in South African hands but also saddles it with the responsibility of reconciling its differences with other African economies and polities.

What BRICS means for Brazil

Brazil is struggling to define its role in BRICS, with its attendance reduced to the mundane. Much of this has been due to the Government being bogged down by domestic problems, leading to a loss of the momentum that President Lula had injected. For a country that is still searching for its place in the world, the Lula vision was to move Brazil from being merely ‘that big country on the left of the map’ to becoming a critical partner in the Asian century. BRICS provided it a free ride to undertake this ambitious plan. But it remains to be seen how and when Brazil will overcome its inertia.

What BRICS means for India

Finally we have India, in many ways the proverbial swing state for which BRICS could offer the flexibility it needs and without which the BRICS would not just lose its ‘I’ but also a fair part of its identity. For a country that is slowly but surely exhibiting signs of becoming part of the liberal order it once opposed, BRICS is the rhetorical, normative and tactical vehicle to affect its transition from ‘trade union leader’ to ‘global manager’.

The BRICS rubric also allows for sustained engagement with China, which could build multiple dependencies. It enables India to demonstrate muscularity on its border dispute with China while concurrently embracing it. For example, the New Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank enable India to participate in Beijing’s ambitions and benefit from it (it needs huge doses of commercial loans and development finance) without being socialised into ‘Pax Sinica’.

BRICS will be beneficial for India if it opts for pragmatism over ideology and sees the Beijing Consensus as means of shaping the discourse of the ‘east’ until it is able to script one of its own. On the other hand, if Delhi chooses to play the ideological card, it will end up on the wrong end of the bargain as it did with the Washington Consensus – staying out and consequently being excluded from the mechanisms and institutions that shape global development and direct global capital.

BRICS is also the last hand India has to play with Russia, given the dwindling interdependence between the two states. India fears continental encirclement, owing to increased Russian engagement with Pakistan (visible in the diluted treatment of counter-terrorism in the BRICS outcomes statement) and what it believes is a Russian slide into China’s orbit. Consequently, it will be through the normative processes as well as the economics of the BRICS grouping that India can maintain a serious balancing play with Moscow.

Finally we must acknowledge that for all the talk of a rising democratic India being welcomed with open arms by the great powers, India’s acceptance into the Western-led global order has been lukewarm. A deeper integration into BRICS, as the outcomes statement promises, will give Delhi far greater bargaining power in negotiating its place within the global political and economic governance institutions currently dominated by the West.

Photo by Flickr user MEAphotography.

Samir Saran & Vivan Sharan: Behind the lines of credit

The government should use lines of credit to transition India’s economic engagements towards a more durable, defined framework

by Samir Saran & Vivan Sharan 

March 28, 2015 Last Updated at 21:48 IST, Business Standard
Original link is here

Last year Indian PM announced a $1 billion concessional line of credit (LoC) on his maiden visit to Nepal. More recently he announced a concessional in his March visit to of $500 million for civil infrastructure projects, and a similar line to of $318 million for development of railway infrastructure. Clearly, LoCs are becoming a key arrow in India’s economic diplomacy quiver.

The Indian government subsidises the interest rate on concessional LoCs under its Development Cooperation Programme. Since LoC projects are demand-driven, recipient countries first have to make a request for a LoC to the ministry of external affairs, which considers political and economic aspects before handing over the structural and disbursement process to the ministry of finance and the Export Import Bank, respectively. The sheer size of the LoCs committed to and Mauritius in particular is indicative of the shift in India’s foreign policy priorities towards its neighbours.

The importance given to LoCs comes at a critical juncture in the global development discourse. There is little agreement on a ‘universally applicable’ global development agenda. The heydays of structural macroeconomists arguing for deficit reduction as a precondition to ‘development assistance’ are perhaps behind us. In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, countries are racking up large debts in an attempt to spend their way out of deflation. As world leaders prepare to negotiate Sustainable Development Goals to succeed the Millennium Development Goals, key development questions will be up for debate.

The negotiations will be rough and tough. A number of politically sensitive questions must be addressed if a truly inclusive and sustainable development agenda is to be crafted: What should be the measure of effectiveness of financial flows, such as LoCs? Who or which body should have the mandate to measure this effectiveness? How critical a role will financial markets play in the maximisation of development impact? What should be the criterion for assistance? How can economic incentives between development partners be aligned?

A study by the Observer Research Foundation on India’s concessional LoCs to East Africa has helped shed light on some of these issues. One of India’s largest LoC tranches, of $640 million, has been given to the Ethiopian government for expanding sugar refining operations. According to the Ethiopian Sugar Corporation, production from three assisted plants, which would total close to 1.6 million tonnes of sugar annually, would help Ethiopia become a net sugar exporter. The effectiveness of LoCs, therefore, is closely tied to the shift away from structural import dependence. The Ethiopian exchequer could earn $376 million annually through sugar exports from 2015, but the qualitative impact is perhaps wider. The credit extended will help generate livelihoods both directly and indirectly through infrastructure and supply chain creation; it will generate additional revenues for development objectives and create a new industrial ecosystem. Given that this entire process was demand-led, local stakeholders are perhaps best-equipped to measure the developmental and economic impact of the LoC.

From the Indian perspective, two aspects must be revisited to exponentially increase the impact of such LoCs. First, the role of the local agency is central. Often, countries from where LoC demands originate require handholding and technical support. The commercial sections of Indian missions in countries to which large development flows have been committed require support of experts and technocrats. Since the Indian Foreign Service is smaller than New Zealand’s, it is vital that the government breaks down silos reserved for diplomats, and supplements its missions with professionals possessing the requisite expertise in handling and supporting commercial projects. Prime Minister Modi would know that economic outcomes are not going to wait for the Indian bureaucracy to reform or for officials to reconcile themselves to the fact that horizontal hires need to be paid market wages. Billions of dollars are at stake, important relationships need nurturing and none of this should be jeopardised by a handful of egos.

The second key issue is the involvement of Indian vendors in funded projects. Under the concessional LoC framework, recipient countries have to procure a variable proportion of goods and services (between 65 and 75 per cent) from Indian firms towards project implementation. Anecdotal evidence gathered for the ORF study suggested that the pre-tendering and tendering processes have much scope for improvement. Given this government’s emphasis on expanding the Indian industrial base, there is an opportunity to make the LoC-linked tendering process more competitive and inclusive. Many stakeholders privately confessed that the process is not transparent and is geared to cater to a select few. The government must, therefore, use the new commitments to Nepal and Mauritius as an opportunity to revise the tendering process and to offer a level playing field. The bureaucracy must be kept at arm’s length from market operations in order not to replicate the very system of state patronage that the Indian PM hopes to dismantle.

In 2012, the total amount of open LoCs crossed $10 billion and this instrument is only likely to gain further prominence. Yet India is itself a developing country with urgent development needs of its own, and a limited budget. Thus the Modi administration must extract maximum ‘bang for the buck’ from LoCs, while making sure that the concessional lending programme can stand the strictest tests of public scrutiny. For this, the first step is to institute a stakeholder feedback process that would include the private sector, civil society and perhaps even unbiased voices from recipient countries. Recipient governments rarely critique the Indian government, as it would be considered ‘undiplomatic’. What would distinguish the new administration from its predecessors would be the willingness to actively solicit criticism and refine existing processes for the larger public good and efficacy of its primary instrument for economic diplomacy.

In the early post-independence years, the thrust of India’s external engagements and economic diplomacy (not necessarily described as such) was with countries with similar colonial experiences and economic realities in the neighbourhood and Africa. More recently, its engagements in groupings such as have resulted in new development financing instruments like the recently announced New Development Bank. The country’s involvement in the G20 following the financial crisis compelled India to commit to an IMF-led euro zone-focused stabilisation fund. The new government must now attempt to transition India’s towards a more deliberate, durable and definitional framework. Well-administered LoCs offer a great avenue to do this – and therefore must be given commensurate strategic priority and attention.


The writers are with the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi

Why BRICS is important to Brazil

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Original article can be found here

Brazil has a prominent role to play in the global governance architecture. The country has sustained structural economic growth on the back of favourable demographic drivers, growing middle class consumption and broad scale socio-economic transformation. As a result, the business environment in the country has steadily improved; and the number of people living in extreme poverty have halved over the last decade. It is time for the country to place commensurate emphasis on consolidating its position as a regional leader; and as a key stakeholder on the global governance high table. BRICS provides the perfect platform to marry the dual imperatives.

                       

HOT TOPICS: BRICS

Brazil boasts of one of the world’s largest domestic markets and a sophisticated business environment. It ranks 53rd on the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index (2001-12), and is ahead of the rest of the BRICS nations in the availability of financial services among other key indicators of financial market penetration. Brazil’s upwardly mobile middle class and its elite have inexorably embraced the liberal globalisation framework, promoted by the developed world. Consequently, since the 1990’s they have shown a greater willingness to engage with the international system, and accept transnational regulations and norms.

As a willing signatory to international norms, ranging from those around mitigation of climate change to preventing nuclear proliferation, Brazil has often broken its own historical typecast of being defensive. What superficially seems to represent a systemic re-prioritisation – requires deeper investigation. According to the Economist’s Economic Intelligence Unit, domestic savings rates in the country are below 20 percent. Mid-sized industries still largely rely on external markets for raising money and channelling investments. By default, international perception about the Brazilian economy is an important component of national strategy. Concomitantly, the Latin American identity is one that successive governments have strived to shed.

Being part of the BRICS grouping has helped Brazil to leverage its ‘emerging market’ identity and de-hyphenate from its Latin American identity (which had its own convoluted dynamics in any case). This is evident both in the global economic and political spheres. BRICS has provided Brazil with a platform to engage with the international system more progressively. It can now navigate the international rules based architecture, with greater bargaining power and seek greater representation in institutions of global economic and political governance. Using the BRICS identity, Brazil no longer has to drive a wedge between its development and growth imperatives. It can shield its poor from international regulations, without fear of its ‘investment worthiness’ being diluted. It can participate at the global high table, while simultaneously catering to nuanced regional imperatives.

The recent death of Hugo Chavez was termed “an irreparable loss” by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. This serves as an example of the ideological flexibility, which the country employs to engage with a neighbourhood that is strictly divided on the Venezuelan President’s legacy. Indeed fine balancing tactics are not new to Brazilian foreign policy, also termed ‘a study in ambivalence’. The pluralistic construct of BRICS fits perfectly with Brazil’s strategic outlook on its neighbourhood and the world. Brazil has taken on more regional commitments over the same twenty year period during which it has enhanced its engagements with the international system. This is evidenced from increased participation in regional working group meetings, official summits and informal gatherings by the government.

There are numerous accounts of Brazil’s deployment of regional priorities as a bargain chip. Through MERCOSUR (Southern Common Market), Brazil has been able to successfully negotiate trade agreements in favour of its national interests. It is a pivotal founder member of the five-member trading bloc, which recently included Venezuela within its fold. In the on-going negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement with the European Union (EU), Brazil has pulled out all the stops, shielding its local industries from cheaper foreign made imports; with support from other members including Argentina. Similarly, common interests rather than common ideologies dictate the BRICS agenda. Brazil’s membership of the grouping is in complete consonance with its regional and global strategic imperatives.

Aside from the adaptive flexibility that the informal BRICS grouping offers, it allows Brazil great latitude in bringing specific agendas around innovation, intellectual property rights and green growth at its core. Brazil is home to nearly half of the world’s biodiversity; the overarching sustainable development agenda is not surprisingly a national priority. Similarly, Brazil has the opportunity to use mechanisms such as the BRICS Exchange Alliance for attracting investments. While the current framework enables investors to trade in cross-listed futures indices, if there is political will, the mechanism could eventually encompass various products with different underlying assets including equities. Another relevant sector specific example is commercial aerospace cooperation, where Brazil has unmatched expertise within the grouping.

There are in fact multiple opportunities for Brazil within BRICS, not limited to the economic sphere. In many ways, the grouping brings Brazil from the left corner of the world map to the centre, where the geopolitical theatre is most active; in Asia and the Indo – Pacific. However there are two oddities in the Brazilian agenda which would require circumnavigation if Brazil is to be brought to the heart of the geopolitical discourse. The first is to moderate its insistence on pursuing ‘euro-styled’ agendas such as interventionist doctrine ‘responsibility to protect’ (R2P), with an ambiguously defined alternative ‘responsibility while protecting’. Sovereignty matters to other BRICS and there is some time before supra-national initiatives would pass muster. And the second is to shed its reluctance on the agenda for creation of a BRICS led Development Bank. In this instance Brazil, with its considerable Development Bank experience, can help shape a credible institute that will empower billions south of the equator.

Vivan Sharan is Associate Fellow and Samir Saran is Vice President at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), New Delhi.

Article in “Russia & India Report”: BRICS for a new world

by Samir Saran and Vivan Sharan
March 12th, 2011
Please find here the original article

The 4th BRICS Academic Forum recently concluded in New Delhi. Over 60 delegates representing academic institutions, think tanks and expert community from the member countries participated in substantial debates that covered virtually every challenge and opportunity of contemporary times. The debates were intense, sometimes combative but almost always conducted among friends. This was the key takeaway from this meeting. The community is strong, it is aware of the differences, eager to resolve those and is comfortable with the irresolvables. The skeptics of BRICS for four years, would now need to rethink, this group has evolved, this group sees potential in greater and deeper engagement, and this group is capable of proposing bold and visionary ideas at the New Delhi Summit later this month and in the other interactions before and after.

This was not always the case and we only have to recall the early days of the relationship. To anyone witnessing one of the early Track 2 interactions on a cold day in Moscow in 2008, it would have seemed improbable that the grouping would come this far. There was early hesitance and unformed agendas among each of the experts gathered from the four countries (at that time BRIC). The Brazilian experts were unsure of their being there in the first place. A very prominent diplomat from Brazil saying, “why are we here, why do you need us, you are all neighbours and should talk amongst yourselves”. The Russians at that time, and who must be credited for the inception of the BRIC idea, saw in it a political opportunity to create a grouping of that could counter the Atlantic alliance and the Western economic and political weight. They were to be dissappointed, India and China were already deeply integrated with the US and EU in the arena of trade and economics and would not play ball. The experts from China liked the BRIC idea, which could be another instrument for projecting their growing pole position in world affairs and India was beginning to manage the nuances of diverse relationships in multi-polar world. It had also learnt from the SCO experience and this time it would not demur.

However, the early days of the conversations amongst experts and indeed among the policy makers from these countries lacked detail. This has changed, from the macro discussions on global governance, financial architecture, security and greater coordination, the discussions today focus on the substantive, on experince sharing, on creating institutions and linking up existing ones. In the fourth year of the BRICS (South Africa joined last year), the group has come of age. This is attested to by two facts. First, the experts from the four countries have signed an agreement to step up their interactions which till now have been sporadic and on the sidelines of the Leaders Summit and two, the wide ranging recommendations that the experts forum has submitted for the consideration of the Leaders at the summit in New Delhi demonstrate the limitless possibilities for the grouping.

The Forum’s recommendations to the 4th BRICS Leaders Summit to be held in New Delhi on March 29th are relevant and actionable. They are the result of intense discussions, debates and negotiations between the delegates on common challenges and opportunities faced by BRICS members, as they seek to set the global agendas for governance and development going forward. The theme for this year’s Academic Forum was “Stability, Security and Growth” – all common imperatives for the emerging and developing BRICS nations.

17 policy recommendations were carefully crafted by the Forum and are centred on key priorities for BRICS within the aegis of governance, socio-economic development, security and growth. The mandate of the Forum was to provide concrete policy alternatives to BRICS Leaders and to the credit of the delegates this year, the recommendations may have lived up to the mandate. The Forum deliberated context specific micro debates embedded within larger narratives. Varied and significant themes were addressed including the articulation of a common vision for the future; a framework to respond to regional and global crises; climate change and sustainable resource use; urbanization and its associated challenges; improving access to healthcare at all levels; scaling up and implementing new education and skilling initiatives; the conceptualization of financial mechanisms to support and drive economic growth; and finally sharing technologies, innovations and improving the cooperation across industrial sectors and geographies.

The Forum deliberated upon two distinct sets of engagement. One set of engagements is through research and initiatives that are “Intra-BRICS” in nature. These involve experience sharing across social policy, resource efficiency, poverty alleviation programmes, sustainable development ideas, innovation and growth. Each of these themes can be effectively mapped to help tailor policy within BRICS. The recommendations highlight the possibilities for enhancing such engagements through exchange of institutional experiences and processes, free flow of scholars and students, joint policy research, capacity and capability building for facilitating such interactions.

The second set of engagements and outcomes pertain to interaction of BRICS with other nations,  external actors and groupings at various multi-lateral forums and institutions. These are reflected in the recommendations pertaining to climate policies, Rio +20, financial crisis management, traditional security threats, terrorism and other new threats and global challenges around health, IPR and development.

The Forum provided a valuable platform for exchange of perspectives between delegates without adhering to national positions or party loyalties. There were heated debates on issues such as the possible institutionalisation of a BRICS Development Bank and an Infrastructure Investment Fund that could assist in the development aspirations of the BRICS and other developing countries. The discussions on the setting up on new, credible institutions to initially supplement and eventually substitute existing financial institutions such as the World Bank and IMF reflect the strong desire of BRICS to move ahead and away from the traditional development agendas of 20th century institutions that are today incapable of empathising with some of the realities and aspirations of the 21st century. This is perhaps a reflection on the way Bretton Woods Institutions are managed and governed and indeed to their legitimacy itself.

The recommendations reveal that BRICS view the sustainable development agenda through the lens of inclusive growth and equitable development primarily. The recommendations have also clarified that BRICS will continue to focus on achieving efficiency gains in resource use. Both these outcomes point towards resolute and far sighted policy guidance by the Forum. Climate change mitigation debates which have become a proxy for “Promoting Green Technology” and indeed are an outcome of “re-industrialisation policy” of some EU countries were conspicuous by their absence from the debates. Instead, with “plurality in prosperity” as a common ideal, the outcomes also signify that the research community within BRICS want the sustainability discourse to shift from one that emphasises common responsibility to one that emphasises common prosperity. This means that BRICS must attempt to reorient consumption patterns and energy use globally, towards sustainable trajectories. The BRICS Leaders would do well to replicate the cohesiveness of the BRICS academics in the articulation of their vision for creating sustainable economies, ecologies and societies. Similarly the promotion of cultural cooperation, establishing innovation linkages, sharing pathways to universal healthcare and medicine for all, strenghthening indigenous knowledge are all recommendations that are timely and appropriate.

The gradual transition process of BRICS becoming the global agenda setters has been one of the more exciting developments to watch and study. While sceptics may still dismiss the possibility of BRICS being “rule-makers”, it is unlikely that they will not influence “rule-making” processes. The experts at the forum were unambiguous in their vision for the grouping. While recognising that in many instances BRICS might eventually yield to sub optimal policy formulations due to national agendas and geo-political constraints, they were determined that the incubation period is over and now the bar must always be set high and the leaders must be ambitious. In the words of one of the delegates at the 4th BRICS Academic Forum, BRICS have indeed created a “new geography of cooperation” and opportunities are boundless.

Samir Saran is Vice-President and Vivan Sharan an Associate Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation. The foundation hosted the 4th BRICS Academic Forum.