BRICS

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.

unnamed

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

A LONG-TERM VISION FOR BRICS

Original link is here 

The objective of this document is to formulate a long-term vision for BRICS. This in turn flows from substantive questions such as what BRICS will look like in a decade and what the key priorities and  achievements will be. It is true  that  BRICS is a nascent, informal grouping   and   its   agenda   is  evolving   and   flexible.   Therein  lays  the uniqueness of BRICS. The BRICS leaders have reiterated that  BRICS will work  in  a gradual,  practical and  incremental manner. Nonetheless, the grouping  needs  a long-term vision  to  achieve  its  true  potential for two reasons: (1) to dove-tail  the tactical and individual activities into  a larger framework and direction; and (2) to help in monitoring the progress of the various sectoral initiatives in a quantifiable manner.

The  Track  II BRICS dialogue,  under  the  chairmanship of India  in 2012, has been robust. On March  4th  – 6th,  2012,  academics and experts  from the five BRICS nations—Brazil, Russia,  India,  China and South  Africa— assembled  in  New  Delhi   for  the   4th   BRICS  Academic   Forum. The overarching theme was “Stability, Security  and  Growth.” This  theme is useful for understanding the motivation and ethos of BRICS as a platform for dialogue and cooperation on issues of collective interest.

The  dialogue  led to the drafting of a comprehensive set of recommendations for BRICS leaders  (Annexure 1). The  17  paragraphs that  capture the  recommendations to  the  BRICS leaders  were  reached through a consensual process between  60 academics and experts from the five countries. Forum  delegates  contributed a number of research and policy papers  that  formed  the basis for the enriching discussions. Each of these  papers  highlighted key  areas  for  cooperation, within the  overall construct of the BRICS agenda.  This  research led to a significant build-up of knowledge on BRICS. This  long-term vision document is an attempt to aggregate the dialogue and research that  has fed the Track II process so far and to build upon it.

Broadly speaking, the document is divided into four sections. The first, on ‘Common Domestic Challenges’, aims to pinpoint multiple areas in which sharing experiences and best practices within the BRICS Forum  will help to respond to common problems. For example, BRICS nations have vastly differing levels of educational attainment and healthcare policies. As large developing   countries with  significant  governance challenges,  but  also ‘demographic dividends’ and  other  drivers  of growth  to reap,  BRICS can greatly benefit from innovative ideas emanating from similarly positioned nations.

The  second  the  matic section focuses  on  ‘Growing  Economies, Sharing Prosperity’. Given  the  huge distance that  the  BRICS nations have yet to cover   in   tackling  poverty   and   providing   livelihoods  to   their   rising populations, there  is no option other  than maintaining and  accelerating economic growth.  This  section outlines the necessity of deepening intra- BRICS  and  worldwide   trade   and  economic synergies.   Additionally,  it documents growing energy needs and discusses how the economic growth imperative affects the BRICS discourse on climate change.

The third section, titled ‘Geopolitics, Security and Reform of International Institutions’, outlines an enhanced role for BRICS within an increasingly polycentric world  order.  Within the  United  Nations  (particularly the Security  Council), enhanced BRICS representation can institutionalise a greater  respect  for  state   sovereignty and  non-intervention. In  Bretton Woods Institutions, like the IMF and World Bank, BRICS seeks to reform voting  shares   to  reflect  the  evolved  global  system, different  from  that forged in the immediate aftermath of World War II. Finally,  as leaders  in the   developing   world,   BRICS  nations  seek  to  create   a  development discourse that better represent their aspirations.

The  fourth thematic section, on the  ‘Other Possible  Options for Cooperation’, outlines possible  developments to further collective engagement once the necessary prerequisites are achieved. At the present juncture, it  may  be  too  early  to  think of  BRICS  becoming a  formal, institutionalised alliance. However,  it  is important for the  grouping  to envision a commonality of purpose, continuity of operation and dialogue beyond annual summit meetings.

There are five prominent agendas  of cooperation and  collaboration that emerge from this  vision document. These themes are integral to the very idea of long-term engagement between  the  BRICS nations and provide  a framework for accelerating momentum and  increasing significance over the long term:

1.         Reform of Global Political  and Economic Governance Institutions: This  is the centrepiece of the BRICS agenda,  which  in many  ways resulted in the  genesis  of the  grouping. With  the  move  towards a polycentric world order,  BRICS nations must assume a leadership role in the global political  and economic governance paradigm and seek greater equity for the developing world. Over the coming years, they  must continue to  exert  pressure for  instituting  significant reforms within institutions—such as the United Nations Security Council (UNSC),  the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund  (IMF). Various  suggestions outlined in this  report  provide  a constructive framework for enabling substantive reforms.

2.         Multilateral Leverage: There are multiple formats for engagement and cooperation in order to leverage the BRICS identity at the global high  table.  The  outcome of the  BRICS officials  meeting on  the sidelines of the  November 2012  G20  in  Mexico,  where  it  was decided  to  create  and  pool  a currency reserve  of up  to  USD  240 billion   is  one   instance  of  enhanced  intra-BRICS cooperation. Similarly, the  Conference of Parties, the  United Nations, and  the World  Trade   Organisation are  existing   cooperative frameworks,

within which BRICS countries can collectively position themselves by fostering  intra-BRICS consensus on issues  of significance. The United Nations is central to a multilateral framework, and there  is significant potential for BRICS to collaborate and  assume a more prominent  role   in   global   political   and   economic  governance, conflict  resolution etc.,  through institutions such  as the  Security Council.

3.         Furthering Market Integration: Global  economic growth  has  been seriously  compromised in the years following the Global Financial Crisis. Each percentage point  reduction in global growth  leads to a significant  slowdown  of  economic development within  BRICS which hinges  upon  a necessary component of economic growth.  In this   regard,   market  integration within  BRICS,  whether in  the context of trade, foreign investments or capital markets, is a crucial step  to  ensure that  the  five countries become  less  dependent on cyclical trends in the global economy.

4.         Intra-BRICS  Development   Platform:  Each   BRICS  nation  has followed a unique development trajectory. In the post-Washington Consensus era, developing  economies within BRICS must set the new development agenda, which in turn must incorporate elements of inclusive growth,  sustainable and  equitable development, and perhaps most   importantly,  uplifting those  at  the  bottom of the pyramid. The  institution of BRICS-specific  benchmarks and standards, as  well  as  more  calibrated collaboration on  issues  of common concern including the rapid pace of urbanisation and the healthcare needs of almost half the world’s population represented by BRICS, must be prioritised.

5.   Sharing of Indigenous and Development Knowledge and Innovation Experiences  across   Key  Sectors:   Along   with   the   tremendous potential for resource and technology sharing and mutual research and development efforts, coordination across  key sectors—such as information technology, energy generation, and high-end manufacturing—would prove immensely beneficial for accelerating the BRICS development agenda. Moreover, the BRICS nations must share  indigenous practices and experiences to learn and respond to the immense socio-economic challenges from within and outside. This  vision document contains multiple suggestions for instituting such  sharing mechanisms through various  platforms and cooperation channels.

This   document  analyses  the   above   themes  in   detail.   Each   section concludes with  recommendations specific  to  the  chapter’s theme. The final  section contains synthesised suggestions which  serve as an outline/framework for enhancing intra-BRICS cooperation and collaboration. The  official declarations/statements of BRICS leaders  are available in Annexure (s) 2 to 5.

Why BRICS is important to Brazil

Image

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.

Generosity within BRICS offers China passport to power

The original article is available here

panda

George Orwell once remarked “Whoever is winning at the moment will always seem to be invincible.” China’s long-running growth juggernaut has resulted in a steady conversion of China skeptics into believers, so much so that a Pew Global Attitudes report released in July 2011 indicated a widespread perception that China has either replaced or will replace the US as the world’s sole superpower, with the Americans themselves just about equally divided on the subject.

For the Chinese establishment, even as being the preeminent global power remains their ultimate aspiration, China’s own outlook has been far more pragmatic.

There is a realization that the critical vectors that fuelled China’s impressive growth have either played out or are near to playing out their potential.

Exports are slowing, and the near double-digit growth in domestic consumption leaves little room for additional growth without triggering unbridled inflation.

Compounding this is fast depleting surplus labor in China’s rural backyard and steady increase in wage costs, which have grown at an annual rate of 15 percent over the past years.

This and stagnating Western demand for goods are impacting China’s growth algorithm built around the premise of inexpensive labor and competitive exports.

China’s redemption as the preeminent global power is hinged as much on its capacity to sustain its economic momentum as in its ability to influence the principles, values and rules that define global institutional mechanisms and frameworks.

However, China’s stellar economic engagement with the world has not resulted in commensurate political weight or perceptional dividends within global institutions.

To realize its aspirations, China urgently needs to find a way around this predicament, and BRICS offers it a plausible option and opportunity.

BRICS is today the most promising entente of high growth economies. BRICS’ national economic and political transformation agendas are fuelling huge domestic demand for newer types of products and services. China is uniquely positioned to gain enormously from this dispensation.

Standard Bank estimates China is party in over 85 percent of intra-BRICS trade flows, which have grown by about 1,000 percent over the last decade to over $300 billion, and are estimated to reach $500 billion by 2015.

While intra-BRICS trade accounted for close to 20 percent of BRICS’ total trade in 2012, it remains disproportionately weighed in China’s favor. Hence in any BRICS growth story, China will be the biggest net gainer.

While the BRICS nations have formed a close bond between themselves, they haven’t consummated any traditional model of interstate alliance.

The model affords sufficient space to accommodate intra-group differences and independent strains of national discourse.

It is still bilateral relationships rather than allegiance to group ethos that predominantly inform the intra-BRICS economic and political dynamic.

Group identity and collective consciousness will result from co-creating and co-managing institutions and instruments. A BRICS development bank, a stock exchange alliance and a BRICS fund are all vital next steps.

For China to unleash and benefit from the full potential of the group, it needs to work on such initiatives. These will offer it a new economic landscape and will also help take the edge out of bilateral relationships.

However, for China to command the moral weight to realize its power ambitions through BRICS, it needs to morph from a trading partner seeking profits to a strategic ally helping shape a common world.

As the partner that stands to benefit the most from any expanded BRICS play, China needs to be singularly more magnanimous and mindful in accommodating the legitimate interests and aspirations of other member states.

A disproportionate generosity, whether it is in resolving bilateral disputes or legacy issues, or, sharing of power at BRICS institutions, independent of economic contribution and effort, will reap very rich political and economic dividends, while also permanently insulating China from the politics of power imbalance within the group.

Samir Saran is vice president at Observer Research Foundation and Jaibal Naduvath is a communications professional in the Indian private sector. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

 

Chapter in ORF publication: “The Global Economic Meltdown”

Samir wrote one chapter in the new ORF publication “The Global Economic Meltdown”. Book Cover
Please find here the original link

Please find here the full document (PDF version): Deconstructing India’s Inclusive Development Agenda

The Global Financial Crisis (GFC) of 2008 is widely recognized across the globe as the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression. The prolonged global economic slowdown has stymied the US economy, brought the Eurozone to the precipice, and continues to retard growth momentum throughout the world. Even developing economies that were previously thought to be crisis-averse are now experiencing the rough waters after an economic tsunami.

The writers in this compendium address the many complexities of the GFC and present a holistic overview of its background, how it unfolded and how many nations sought to respond to it. This publication is unique in its approach of the crisis from a global perspective, with pieces focusing on India, Europe and the United States. Furthermore, the book provides a thorough examination of the economic, political, environmental and social implications of the crisis and offers glimpses of the road ahead, replete with policy recommendations for a more stable and prosperous future.

Thinking the Russian Choice: BRICS v/s OECD

Please find here the link to the official publication.

After a long wait, come 2014, that most exclusive club of nations, Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) will have a new member – Russia, which at one point was its most vocal critic. With the grouping’s influence arguably on the wane, despite efforts to make it more reflective of the zeitgeist, Russia’s eagerness to join it makes for an interesting study. By itself, it may largely be emblematic of Russia’s aspirations for a slice of imagined glory on the high table of the rich. Apart from saving denizens of St Petersburg a drive across the border to Finnish supermarkets, thanks to reduction in import tariffs, it brings to the fore the dichotomies that define Russia’s foreign policy, and more notably, its unique position within the BRICS. Russia’s impending accession to OECD, will see it attempting to align to an arrangement that could be characterized ‘old world’, with attitudes to political and economic models that compete and collide with those the developing world consider optimum to their own needs. This OECD membership will be at odds with the BRICS aspiration of offering a credible alternative to extant western systems currently governing international trade and economic exchange.

Strategic Expectations

Up until the disintegration of Soviet Union, the anxious need for this ‘super-power’ to shape an equally prevailing alternative to US domination of world affairs was central to the bipolar architecture that informed world politics. While bipolarity is now a remnant of history, lingering anxieties have continued to play a visceral role in shaping Russia’s foreign policy discourse. Russia’s presence in BRICS and other multi-lateral organizations such as SCO or G-20, its play at the UN, and response to issues such as opposition to proposed NATO missile shields in erstwhile client states of Poland and Romania, can be consistently traced to this arc of alternate leadership challenging legitimating discourses of the US led Western bloc.

Russia stands at the crossroad of global power flows today, where the signboards often appear fuzzy. On the one hand, the exclusivity of OECD beckons it. Even as Russian policymakers see OECD accession as natural fit, Russia may have to remain content with a seat at the periphery of OECD policy play. Powerful, entrenched lobbies within OECD, and Russia’s own political and economic architecture, could scupper effective integration and any gains thereof. On the other hand, Russia is rightly upping her engagement ante at BRICS. Even though BRICS agenda and agency may have been shaped by characteristic developing world priorities such as urban renewal, universal health and poverty alleviation, yet it is the only capable agent on the horizon that can offer a credible political and economic alternative to extant western systems. These nations have ‘emerged’ more ‘despite’ than ‘because’ of the developed world’s hand in their own journeys of growth. Their homegrown brews of practical logic in economics and governance, which helped them over the threshold, hold valuable lessons for Russia, which needs customized rather than copybook solutions.

Economic Priorities

Russia has the highest per capita GDP in the BRICS grouping, with Brazil a close second. Viewed in isolation, this means little. However, figures have a peculiar ability to obscure reality. For, Russia’s growth is based on skewed planning logic, spindled around commodity leverage aiding wealth concentration that has created physical and economic habitations literally at the opposite ends of the spectrum, with little in the middle. So, while Russia may have one of the largest populations of billionaires on the globe, the country does not figure anywhere in the top fifteen in the world millionaires chart, even as a significant mass of people struggle to make a decent living. Even today, commodities, especially oil and gas, which contribute the biggest slice of income to the national exchequer retains high policymaking attention in the Russian schema, even as the financial sector tethers at frontier market levels with subprime level interest rates for even high quality assets. While the predictability of such economic logic is close to the Russian roulette, even its frailty exposed by oil economy collapse in the aftermath of financial meltdown of 2008, has led to little meaningful change in planning behaviors.

Russia urgently needs systemic overhaul and its BRICS calling card offers it the maximum single point leverage in this regard. Economic ethos of BRICS historically has been pivoted around creating sustainable and inclusive institutional structures, which operate with high degree of predictability, posited as counterweight to overcome the highly negotiated nature of their national agency. Dipping into this rich collective experience, especially those of Brazil, India and China, who have long perfected models of sustainable reform with emphasis on equitable wealth distribution, could significantly alter Russia’s own learning curve, delivering quicker results with much less effort and fiscal pain.

Social Priorities

With close to cent per cent literacy, healthy sex ratio, high education levels, and, almost ten hospital beds and over four physicians per thousand individuals, Russia’s social statistics rival the best in the developed world. Years of disciplined social planning by the erstwhile Soviet regime had created one of the best national social architectures anywhere. Whereas the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and the economic chaos that ensued, consumed most other national institutions, strong fundamentals anchored in robust institutional frameworks helped Russia’s social architecture negotiate adverse headwinds of over two decades or so of policy challenges and spending cuts. However this fabled resilience is now showing unmistakable signs of fracture, with income inequity, rising unemployment levels and falling living standards, all of which are making the population increasingly restive.

There is an increasing constituency within Russia’s policy-making apparatus, which realizes the long-term consequences of this trajectory. A rethinking of national priority, away from the overdependence on oil economy to improving social conditions is underway, as Russian planners realize this is perhaps the only sustainable option going forward. In this, Russia can draw and adapt from the immense experience and resource within the BRICS, especially those of post reform Brazil, India and China, where creating sustainable social architectures that balance opportunity and growth with improved living standards has been key to managing large and diverse population groups with disparate interests, and certainly with differing degrees of success.

BRICS Play

Even while BRICS will continue to make the right noises towards providing an alternative to the extant global system, its short to medium term agenda will continue to be dominated by shared domestic priorities and their interplay with global governance frameworks. For realizing their dreams of expanded geopolitical influence, member states are already operating outside the BRICS ambit, and will continue to do so. Brazil has waddled into issues in far off Middle East while China has embraced Latin America, as a single point alternative to United States. As emerging states, they are situated uniquely, being both competitors and partners at the same time. For instance, India has been romancing Japan and United States as counterbalance to China in the political play, while Brazilian policymakers are responding to China’s increasing foothold in Latin America, by establishing closer economic and political collaboration with regional states, a move away from its traditional Euro centricity.

At the same time, on the more substantive issues such as climate change, Doha rounds and WTO which hold real potential to impact the life and times of their citizens, they have functioned as a cohesive unit, even compromising stated national positions, in the finest spirit of give and take. Their development emphasis notwithstanding, BRICS agency remains sufficiently reflective of global commons, and, their interactions are witnessing an increasing play of heavy political content. BRICS have taken firm and independent positions, on the Israel-Arab conflict, Iran and Syria, broader issues of sanctions, transnational interventions and the UN system that governs peace and stability. However, BRICS are unlikely to morph into a security bloc or alliance, and neither are they likely to be anti-western in their orientation. Yet, together they have shown to be able to stand-up and take an effective position against irrational acts stemming from whimsical or partisan objectives that hold potential to disturb global stability. And, that will be the moral space BRICS will seek to occupy in global political consciousness.

Promiscuous Future

We live in a world awash with promiscuous choices. But, the high rush in such flirtation is not without matching dangers. Russia will find reasons and perhaps even the wherewithal to court both BRICS and OECD simultaneously. Even so, Russia will have to delicately balance divergent expectations of the two groups who situate themselves at different ends in an uneven spectrum.

Inclusive growth, prosperity and a stable environment (internal and external) is what each of the BRICS seek as they transform their national economic and political landscapes. While this development emphasis within the BRICS agenda (which will only increase as South Africa assumes leadership) may appear to disturb the role Russia envisaged for BRICS, and herself within it, in reality Russia stands to gain immensely from this dispensation. Considering Russia’s own urgent need for systemic overhaul, there can be no better reference point than countries at the forefront of shaping the new global order. Staying the course will also see the BRICS increase the political content of their engagement, something the Russians always sought from the group of five.

Gains from accession to the OECD, which some feel Russia is speed-gating, may yet be notional. For, reduction in tariff barriers or better access to cutting edge technologies may all be part of the solution, but by themselves, they hold little value unless fundamental changes are effected in governance and planning behaviors to release energy and vibrancy into its national system, which is incidentally the signature BRICS objective.

Jaibal Naduvath is a communication professional and Samir Saran is Vice President at theObserver Research Foundation, a premier Indian Think Tank. The article is a revised version of the column that appeared in the Russia India Report on Jan 21, 2012.

Column in SAFPI: More than just a catchy acronym: six reasons why BRICS matters

by Samir Saran and Vivan Sharan
Please find here the link to the original article.

New Delhi: There have been heated discussions over the role of BRICS recently. Ian Bremmer, President of the Eurasia Group, a political risk consulting firm, wrote an eye-catching article in the New York Times in late November, proclaiming that BRICS is nothing more than a catchy acronym. The BRICS nations represent over 43 percent of the global population that is likely to account for over 50 percent of global consumption by the middle class – those earning between $16 and $50 per day – by 2050. On the other hand, they also collectively account for around half of global poverty calculated at the World Bank’s $1.25 a day poverty line. What, then, is the mortar that unites these BRICS?

First, unlike NATO, BRICS is not posturing as a global security group; unlike ASEAN or MERCOSUR, BRICS is not an archetypal regional trading bloc; and unlike the G7, BRICS is not a conglomerate of Western economies laying bets at the global governance high table. BRICS is, instead, a 21st-century arrangement for the global managers of tomorrow.

At the end of World War II, the Atlantic countries rallied around ideological constructs in an attempt to create a peaceful global order. Now, with the shifts in economic weights, adherence to ideologies no longer determines interactions among nations.

BRICS members are aware that they must collaborate on issues of common interest rather than common ideologies in what is now a near “G-0 world,” to borrow Bremmer’s own terminology. Second, size does not matter and it never has. Interests do and they always will. Intriguingly, Bremmer expresses his concern over China being a dominant member within BRICS. Clearly, Bremmer has chosen to ignore the fact that the US accounts for about 70 percent of the total defense expenditure of NATO countries or that it contributes nearly 45 percent of the G7’s collective GDP.

Third, BRICS is a flexible group in which cooperation is based on consensus. Issues of common concern include creating more efficient markets and generating sustained growth; generating employment; facilitating access to resources and services; addressing healthcare concerns and urbanization pressures; and seeking a stable external environment not periodically punctuated with violence arising out of a whim of a country with means.
Fourth, it is useful to remember that the world is still in the middle of a serious recession emanating from the West. As Bremmer himself points out, systemic dependence on Western demand is a critical challenge for BRICS nations. Indeed, it is no surprise that they have begun to create hedges. The proposal to institute a BRICS-led Development Bank, instruments to incentivize trade and investments, as well as mechanisms to integrate financial markets and stock exchanges are a few examples.

Fifth, through the war on Iraq, some countries undermined the UN framework. The interventions in Libya reaffirmed that sovereignty is neither sacrosanct nor a universal right. While imposing significant economic costs on the world, they failed to produce the desired political outcome. By maintaining the centrality of the UN framework in international relations, BRICS is attempting to pose a counter-narrative.
Sixth, in the post-Washington Consensus era, financial institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank are struggling to articulate a coherent development discourse. BRICS nations are at a stage where they can collectively craft a viable alternative development agenda.

In the Fourth BRICS Summit in New Delhi in March 2012, there was clear emphasis on sharing development knowledge and further democratizing institutions of global financial governance within the cooperative framework. BRICS is a transcontinental grouping that seeks to shape the environment within which the member countries exist. While countries across the globe share a number of common interests, the order of priorities differs. Today, BRICS nations find that their order of priorities on a number of external and internal issues which affect their domestic environments is relatively similar.

BRICS is pursuing an evolving and well thought out agenda based on this premise. And unlike Bremmer, we are not convinced that they are destined to fail.

* Samir Saran is vice president and Vivan Sharan an associate fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

Article in ‘Global Times’: More than just a catchy acronym – six reasons why BRICS matters

by Samir Saran and Vivan Sharan
Please find here the link to the original article. 

There have been heated discussions over the role of BRICS recently. Ian Bremmer, President of the Eurasia Group, a political risk consulting firm, wrote an eye-catching article in the New York Times in late November, proclaiming that BRICS is nothing more than a catchy acronym. 


The BRICS nations represent over 43 percent of the global population that is likely to account for over 50 percent of global consumption by the middle class – those earning between $16 and $50 per day – by 2050. On the other hand, they also collectively account for around half of global poverty calculated at the World Bank’s $1.25 a day poverty line. 

What, then, is the mortar that unites these BRICS? 

First, unlike NATO, BRICS is not posturing as a global security group; unlike ASEAN or MERCOSUR, BRICS is not an archetypal regional trading bloc; and unlike the G7, BRICS is not a conglomerate of Western economies laying bets at the global governance high table. BRICS is, instead, a 21st-century arrangement for the global managers of tomorrow.   

At the end of World War II, the Atlantic countries rallied around ideological constructs in an attempt to create a peaceful global order. Now, with the shifts in economic weights, adherence to ideologies no longer determines interactions among nations. 

BRICS members are aware that they must collaborate on issues of common interest rather than common ideologies in what is now a near “G-0 world,” to borrow Bremmer’s own terminology.

Second, size does not matter and it never has. Interests do and they always will. Intriguingly, Bremmer expresses his concern over China being a dominant member within BRICS. 

Clearly, Bremmer has chosen to ignore the fact that the US accounts for about 70 percent of the total defense expenditure of NATO countries or that it contributes nearly 45 percent of the G7’s collective GDP.

Third, BRICS is a flexible group in which cooperation is based on consensus. Issues of common concern include creating more efficient markets and generating sustained growth; generating employment; facilitating access to resources and services; addressing healthcare concerns and urbanization pressures; and seeking a stable external environment not periodically punctuated with violence arising out of a whim of a country with means.

Fourth, it is useful to remember that the world is still in the middle of a serious recession emanating from the West. As Bremmer himself points out, systemic dependence on Western demand is a critical challenge for BRICS nations. Indeed, it is no surprise that they have begun to create hedges. The proposal to institute a BRICS-led Development Bank, instruments to incentivize trade and investments, as well as mechanisms to integrate financial markets and stock exchanges are a few examples. 

Fifth, through the war on Iraq, some countries undermined the UN framework. The interventions in Libya reaffirmed that sovereignty is neither sacrosanct nor a universal right. While imposing significant economic costs on the world, they failed to produce the desired political outcome. By maintaining the centrality of the UN framework in international relations, BRICS is attempting to pose a counter-narrative.

Sixth, in the post-Washington Consensus era, financial institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank are struggling to articulate a coherent development discourse. BRICS nations are at a stage where they can collectively craft a viable alternative development agenda. 

In the Fourth BRICS Summit in New Delhi in March 2012, there was clear emphasis on sharing development knowledge and further democratizing institutions of global financial governance within the cooperative framework. 

BRICS is a transcontinental grouping that seeks to shape the environment within which the member countries exist. 

While countries across the globe share a number of common interests, the order of priorities differs. Today, BRICS nations find that their order of priorities on a number of external and internal issues which affect their domestic environments is relatively similar. 

BRICS is pursuing an evolving and well thought out agenda based on this premise. And unlike Bremmer, we are not convinced that they are destined to fail.

Samir Saran is vice president and Vivan Sharan an associate fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

 

India, South Africa and the IBSA-BRICS equations of 2013: Francis A. Kornegay responds to Samir Saran

New Delhi, 2nd of January 2013
Please find here the original link.

For South Africa and India, 2013 promises to be a year of “Chinese interesting times” in navigating the IBSA-BRICS equation at a pivotal juncture for both groupings. The BRICS forum convenes in Africa in March with South Africa hosting the 5th Leaders’ Meeting in Durban. Later in the year, in October, India will host the 6th IBSA summit marking the 10th anniversary of the Brasilia Declaration which launched this troika. Meanwhile, the fact that South Africa’s hosting of BRICS will reflect a special Afrocentric twist in its thematic emphasis on ‘BRICS and Africa’ has drawn a sharp reaction from one of India’s leading civil society BRICS intellectuals, Samir Saran. And this is a good thing.
More often than not the coterie of academics and intellectuals networking the BRICS and IBSA confabs skirt around contradictions amongst ourselves which might upset individual and collective apple carts known as ‘polite company.’ This is by avoiding candidly expressing some of what is eating us.
In as much as this reticence tends to be at the expense of genuinely edifying intellectual discourse advancing mutual understanding, Samir Saran has done a much needed service in raising ‘The Africa Question’ in Indian media. And SAFPI has done a great service in disseminating this ‘question’ throughout its African network.
Saran, senior fellow and Vice-President of the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), the think-tank that did the initial spade work on BRICS for its founding summit in Russia in 2009, penned an op-ed in the December 12th edition of The Indian Express voicing exception with South Africa taking upon itself the “onerous task of discovering and representing a unified African voice.”
In the process of arguing this point, Saran demonstrates why it is critical that intellectual as well as governing elites of the five countries really make an effort to get to know one another in more depth, where we are all respectively coming from – and really get a handle on what BRICS is all about apart from, as seems to be suggested, simply a collectivity of national interests converging on reforming global governance generally, global economic governance in particular.
From Saran’s vantage point there are several flaws in South Africa’s approach to BRICS:
* Presumptuously taking it upon itself to speak on behalf of all of Africa;
* Misunderstands why it has been included in BRICS which is not to be a ‘proxy’ for Africa but, as an emerging power with a unique perspective, to add value to BRICS by itself;
* It’s misunderstanding reflects a lack of appreciation for the objective of BRICS which is to convey a counter-narrative on global governance to that of the West and to collectively leverage their individual weights in engaging western incumbents at “the global high table.”
Now presumptuous as it might seem for SA to take it upon itself to speak on behalf of Africa, the same question could be posed about who anointed BRICS countries to engage the West at this hierarchical ‘ global high table’ and on whose behalf? Their own individual behalf separately and collectively without regard for the interests of other emerging and developing economies?
And to what purpose if global governance is not about how various and sundry national interests are to be coordinated and if possible harmonized in a manner acknowledging how global economic integration has eroded the prerogatives of national sovereignty? No country is an island in today’s world, least of all in its own region.
Some countries are more capacitated than others within their regions to articulate aspirations that are transnational even though there may be (indeed are) national jealousies about the capacity of given regional powers to convey a regional agenda which, in concert with other regional agendas, may add up to a continental agenda. It is not for nothing that, in southern Africa there is a SADC to which South Africa belongs or a Mercosur to which Brazil belongs which, in turn, feed into the respective continental agendas of the African Union and the Union of South American Nations. The same might apply to India within the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation though it is often pointed out that India aspires to escape its region in ascending to ‘the high table.’
No, no one anoints these members of IBSA as well as BRICS to represent them at the ‘global high table.’ Yet there is an unspoken if often grudging understanding that by default, South Africa, Brazil and India are better placed than their neighbors to engage at a global governance level which includes other emerging powers within the G20: Indonesia, Turkey, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Argentina.
Now honing in specifically on South Africa, what pray tell informs this “unique perspective” for adding value to BRICS if this uniqueness is not informed by an African identity on a continent saddled by history with a unique set of problems at a time when all of the BRICS countries are scrambling to avail themselves of Africa’s resources? This question strikes at the very heart of what constitutes ‘The Africa Question’ in a manner in which South Asia cannot compare, saddled by history as India and South Asia are with their own unique challenges which, again, ought to inform a South Asian regional sensibility underpinning efforts to come to terms with those challenges.
Now perhaps India is so big, constituting a subcontinental region in itself that some of its sons and daughters may not be able to appreciate a transnational vocation to the same degree that applies to South Africa within Africa. Be that as it may, the national sovereignty that Indians are so attached to simply does not work for South Africa in its relations within a fragmented Africa where national sovereignty is the essence of the continent’s weakness; a weakness that South Africa along with other AU members must work to overcome.
This is a contemporary and historical circumstance compelling a pan-Africanist perspective and agenda for any country on the continent that aspires to continental leadership as does South Africa. This what SA brings to BRICS which is widely understood if not appreciated by some.
South Africa, within its African context, therefore stands apart from other BRICS whose perspectives are informed by what might be termed ‘big country sovereignty’ which is tantamount to continental sovereignty. This is what Africa aspires to and informs South Africa’s African and BRICS agendas. This is a perspective informed by the realities of global economic integration which dictates a pan-African future as the only scenario that makes sense for South Africa and Africa – which by the way does not mandate a ‘united African voice’ as such.
Unless BRICS as individual countries and as a collective begin to more consciously approach global governance from the vantagepoint of making economic integration work within their respective continents and regions, its long-term role as a revisionist actor in the politics of the global economy may be limited. Indeed, this is a challenge facing the IBSA countries within BRICS as it relates to their trilateral relations as the Brasilia Declaration approaches its 10 anniversary in 2013. Thus, whereas Saran asks if BRICS should not also concern itself with South Asian “tensions and imperatives” and those exercising China regarding the South China Sea, as South Africa wants to do regarding Africa, in a qualified sense, the answer is ‘yes.’
BRICS should concern itself with these and other regions in which its members are embedded where issues of transnational economic governance arise having a direct bearing on regional and continental integration. This is what South Africa’s African agenda relating to its hosting of BRICS is intended to address and Tshwane-Pretoria would open itself to major criticism from elsewhere on the continent if this was not its intent. Other BRICS members may not share the urgency of this imperative regarding their regions and continents as does South Africa regarding Africa.
The urgent need for Africa to overcome its fragmentation through advancing an integrationist agenda cannot be contested and if other members of BRICS cannot be sensitive to this special predicament facing the continent and South Africa’s need to address it within the context of BRICS then this raises serious questions about the raison d’etre of South Africa’s membership in this grouping if pure ‘national interest’ narrowly defined is the be all and end all of BRICS. BRICS’ relevance for Africa and the individual agendas of BRICS members in Africa would consequently come under question.
Regional and continental integration and, indeed, inter-regional cooperation are even more explicit in IBSA given the geostrategic architecture of this grouping in two respects: the economic potential of the Mercosur-SACU-India preferential trade talks, difficult as they are; and the added dimension of security community-building in the Indian and South Atlantic oceans.
If New Delhi fails to hone in on strengthening this southern sea lanes comparative strategic advantage in its hosting of the IBSA summit later in 2013 (while also chairing the Indian Ocean Rim-Association for Regional Cooperation) this trilateral grouping could face declining multilateral utility. This would be in spite of India’s strongly held position, with China hovering in the background, of IBSA maintaining its autonomy and identity viz-a-viz BRICS.
2013 therefore should tell a lot about how important IBSA is in New Delhi’s strategic calculus regarding BRICS as it cannot avoid the demand of showing leadership on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Brasilia Declaration. Will it show the vision and political will to jointly take IBSA to another level with South Africa and Brazil?
As central as its building on IBSAMAR is to a re-energizing of IBSA, Indian Ocean-South Atlantic maritime cooperation is by no means the only challenge facing India in its hosting of the troika’s summit.
Here are few other considerations for the three governments:
* Given the elaborate sectoral working group agenda of IBSA and its uneven achievement together with its business, parliamentary and academic forums plus the geostrategic maritime cooperation potential of IBSAMAR, should not this troika contemplate a more formalized structure in the form of a secretariat, perhaps situated in Brasilia? Otherwise, there is a certain superficiality to IBSA and its initiatives which, compared to BRICS, may more and more take on little more than purely symbolic imaging with the real substance of India, Brazil and South Africa residing in BRICS where the leadership edge significantly resides with Sino-Russia.
* Can the three governments continue their south-south tokenism via the IBSA Development Fund run by UNDP’s South-South Joint Cooperation Unit with the prospect of the BRICS development bank coming on stream? Could they not negotiate some complementary synergy between the development fund under IBSA and the development bank under BRICS and up the funding level? Additionally, given the pressing developmental needs in all three countries, could not the development fund house a grassroots development ‘window’ or facility for small-scale income-generating community-level projects in the three countries?
* Why did India and Brazil reportedly shoot down a South African proposal that IBSA establish a working group on women/gender instead of addressing gender and status of women’s issues at a purely forum level? Given the epidemic of violence against women in South Africa as well as India and how the matrix of issues surrounding law enforcement, the judiciary and general vulnerability and brutalizing of women were exposed in India at the end of 2012, will New Delhi revisit the more substantive working group versus the superficiality of a forum for gender and women when it hosts the summit in 2013?
Finally, the structure of the parliamentary forum in particular deviates from the original concept of such an IBSA structure tied as it is under the ministerial focal points of all three governments. The original intent was that it would operate more autonomously like the SADC Parliamentary Forum as one step removed from an actual legislative body. Given the 10th anniversary crossroad challenges facing an IBSA in need of reinvigorating, should not the status of the parliamentary forum be revisited as well and how it would interact with the various sectoral working groups?
All said, as some in India ponder South Africa’s commitment to interrogating the BRICS-Africa connection while reflecting on what New Delhi will make of its own hosting of IBSA, there are a raft of issues on the table for the IBSA-BRICS civil society and academic constituencies to grapple with as they try to influence the direction in which these two groupings will develop.
The question we should ask ourselves is whether we are up to it, whether we are able to move from being arm chair theorists into the agenda-setting real world of action!
* This rejoinder to Samir Saran’s analysis, ‘The Africa question’, was commissioned from Dr Kornegay by SAFPI.