BRICS, Columns/Op-Eds

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.

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BRICS, Columns/Op-Eds

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

 

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BRICS, In the News

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.

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BRICS, Columns/Op-Eds

BRICS FORUM: The Africa Question – now also available in Russian

Please find here the link to the original publication
By Samir Saran

It will be counterproductive for BRICS if South Africa’s chairmanship ends up representing the continent.

With the impending handover of the chairmanship of BRICS by India to South Africa, there is a flurry of activities in BRICS capitals, including a visit of a high-powered South African delegation to New Delhi. While there would be discussions on the modalities of the handover, the central focus must remain on the BRICS agenda.

If recent conversations with South African scholars are any indication, the country’s chairmanship of BRICS may be conditioned by a strong impulse to represent Africa. In two recent conferences in China, interventions by South African delegates on BRICS matters introduced a heavy dose of Africa, issues that currently engage the African Union and the state of the continent generally. In the run up to the 2013 BRICS summit, the country seems to be placing upon itself the onerous task of discovering and representing a unified African voice. While this has drawn criticism, it is also flawed in more ways than one and has the potential of undermining the progress so far.

The first problem is the inherent moral hazard. South Africa must not see its role as the voice of Africa at BRICS. It would be presumptuous and a number of African countries may take strong exception. And is it anyone’s case that it is only Africa that somehow needs a special relationship with BRICS? Home to half of the world’s poverty and any number of development and social challenges, South Asia may deserve such attention as well. Should India then be the voice of South Asia and represent the subcontinent? Surely, some South Asian countries would have a reason to challenge this. This can also be argued in the case of Brazil and South America, Russia and Eurasia, China and East Asia. Such ambassadorial roleplay for larger regions is dangerous and can weigh down the lithe and nimble platform that BRICS seeks to be.

On the other hand, almost every BRICS member has robust bilateral engagements with the continent. While the Chinese may be more recent partners to many African nations, India has both civilisational and contemporary ties. Many Indians are settled in Africa; India has maintained among the largest peacekeeping forces; and of course Indian businesses, much like their Chinese counterparts, are taking increasing interest in the continent. Brazil also has a fair constituency in Lusophone Africa. Africa’s immense resource wealth, and underdeveloped infrastructure, have attracted a large amount of commercial interest from Brazil. Hence, can the premise that South Africa represents Africa and is best positioned to serve its interests pass muster?

The second flaw with the “South Africa for Africa” formulation is that it misunderstands the reason for South Africa’s inclusion in the group. Only a rather naive (and linear) rationale will attach the responsibility for Africa to South Africa. While it is undeniable that one of the key reasons for the inclusion was to have a voice from the continent, the voice was meant to speak for itself alone. South Africa is an emerging economy that offers a unique perspective and adds value to BRICS by itself. It is counterproductive and self-defeating for a small club to allow proxy memberships.

The third and central weakness of this proposition is its lack of appreciation of the core BRICS objectives. It is indisputable that the purpose of this group is to offer a counter-narrative on global governance to the one scripted by the incumbents in the Western hemisphere. BRICS is not and must not become another “trade union” or voice of the “global opposition”. It is a club that allows these five nations to pitch their collective weight behind efforts to shape and change rules for the road, old and new, at the global high table. There is a lot at stake. The world is in flux and governance is being re-imagined, redefined and indeed renegotiated. BRICS allows each country an exponentially weightier presence while parleying with the incumbents. That must remain the group’s salience.

It is time for BRICS to ask themselves some blunt questions. Should the resources and time devoted by each country at this forum be invested in regional issues such as those important to Africa? Should the tensions and imperatives of South Asia find centrestage? Will it be in the interests of BRICS to be engaged with the problems of the South China Sea? Or should BRICS remain that unique proposition, where a group of emerging economies, with critical stake in the global future, create a platform for meaningfully engaging with the developed and developing countries on key issues?

There is no denying that South Africa will remain the continent’s economic powerhouse for the foreseeable future. It is also a veritable geographic fulcrum, which is viewed by some as a strategic node between Latin America and Asia. This gives South Africa a weight far greater than its military might or economic numbers. South Africa by itself completes BRICS. As the next summit draws closer, it must urgently conduct a strategic and realist re-evaluation of what it wants from BRICS against what is on offer.

The writer is senior fellow and vice president, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi

As published in The Indian Express.

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BRICS, Columns/Op-Eds

Article in the Indian Express: “The Africa Question”

by Samir Saran
12th of December 2012
Please find here the link to the original article.

It will be counterproductive for BRICS if South Africa’s chairmanship ends up representing the continent.

With the impending handover of the chairmanship of BRICS by India to South Africa, there is a flurry of activities in BRICS capitals, including a visit of a high-powered South African delegation to New Delhi. While there would be discussions on the modalities of the handover, the central focus must remain on the BRICS agenda.

If recent conversations with South African scholars are any indication, the country’s chairmanship of BRICS may be conditioned by a strong impulse to represent Africa. In two recent conferences in China, interventions by South African delegates on BRICS matters introduced a heavy dose of Africa, issues that currently engage the African Union and the state of the continent generally. In the run up to the 2013 BRICS summit, the country seems to be placing upon itself the onerous task of discovering and representing a unified African voice. While this has drawn criticism, it is also flawed in more ways than one and has the potential of undermining the progress so far.

The first problem is the inherent moral hazard. South Africa must not see its role as the voice of Africa at BRICS. It would be presumptuous and a number of African countries may take strong exception. And is it anyone’s case that it is only Africa that somehow needs a special relationship with BRICS? Home to half of the world’s poverty and any number of development and social challenges, South Asia may deserve such attention as well. Should India then be the voice of South Asia and represent the subcontinent? Surely, some South Asian countries would have a reason to challenge this. This can also be argued in the case of Brazil and South America, Russia and Eurasia, China and East Asia. Such ambassadorial roleplay for larger regions is dangerous and can weigh down the lithe and nimble platform that BRICS seeks to be.

On the other hand, almost every BRICS member has robust bilateral engagements with the continent. While the Chinese may be more recent partners to many African nations, India has both civilisational and contemporary ties. Many Indians are settled in Africa; India has maintained among the largest peacekeeping forces; and of course Indian businesses, much like their Chinese counterparts, are taking increasing interest in the continent. Brazil also has a fair constituency in Lusophone Africa. Africa’s immense resource wealth, and underdeveloped infrastructure, have attracted a large amount of commercial interest from Brazil. Hence, can the premise that South Africa represents Africa and is best positioned to serve its interests pass muster?

The second flaw with the “South Africa for Africa” formulation is that it misunderstands the reason for South Africa’s inclusion in the group. Only a rather naive (and linear) rationale will attach the responsibility for Africa to South Africa. While it is undeniable that one of the key reasons for the inclusion was to have a voice from the continent, the voice was meant to speak for itself alone. South Africa is an emerging economy that offers a unique perspective and adds value to BRICS by itself. It is counterproductive and self-defeating for a small club to allow proxy memberships.

The third and central weakness of this proposition is its lack of appreciation of the core BRICS objectives. It is indisputable that the purpose of this group is to offer a counter-narrative on global governance to the one scripted by the incumbents in the Western hemisphere. BRICS is not and must not become another “trade union” or voice of the “global opposition”. It is a club that allows these five nations to pitch their collective weight behind efforts to shape and change rules for the road, old and new, at the global high table. There is a lot at stake. The world is in flux and governance is being re-imagined, redefined and indeed renegotiated. BRICS allows each country an exponentially weightier presence while parleying with the incumbents. That must remain the group’s salience.

It is time for BRICS to ask themselves some blunt questions. Should the resources and time devoted by each country at this forum be invested in regional issues such as those important to Africa? Should the tensions and imperatives of South Asia find centrestage? Will it be in the interests of BRICS to be engaged with the problems of the South China Sea? Or should BRICS remain that unique proposition, where a group of emerging economies, with critical stake in the global future, create a platform for meaningfully engaging with the developed and developing countries on key issues?

There is no denying that South Africa will remain the continent’s economic powerhouse for the foreseeable future. It is also a veritable geographic fulcrum, which is viewed by some as a strategic node between Latin America and Asia. This gives South Africa a weight far greater than its military might or economic numbers. South Africa by itself completes BRICS. As the next summit draws closer, it must urgently conduct a strategic and realist re-evaluation of what it wants from BRICS against what is on offer.

The writer is senior fellow and vice president, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi

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Books / Papers, BRICS, Columns/Op-Eds

Leaving the Hotel – The West has to get over its fruitless search for common values and instead negotiate global governance in a realist world

by Dr. John C. Hulsman and Samir Saran
3rd of December 2012
Please find hereFour-Seasons-Hotel the link to the original article

Though in theory they come from many places (particularly in the heretofore ruling West), the vast majority of the international foreign policy elite and its corresponding commentariat really only come from one place: Hegelian Land. Make no mistake about it; they form one quite homogenous group, with an unsurprisingly homogenous worldview. Spending weekends attending endless meetings in five-star hotels across the world (The Four Seasons is an especial favorite), their common views are so ingrained in discussions that they are rarely directly commented upon, let alone debated.

In fact, NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) Man has no need of self-reflection, since everyone they know shares their values, having attended the same prestigious universities, married into the same families, worked in the same think tanks, and spent their jet-set weekends together, talking about such weighty matters as ‘the centrality of the global commons,’ ‘the rise of the south,’ ‘the end of the nationstate’, ‘the multilateral global elite,’ and ‘the advance of the developing world toward universal norms,’ amongst other such self-aggrandizing pipedreams. Their basic analytical mistake (and it is seminal) is that as everyone they know shares these parochial Wilsonian values, such a point of view must be all that matters or really exists. Truly, they all hail from one indivisible Hegelian world. But as Woody Allen put it in Annie Hall, ‘Intellectuals have proven to the world that you can have all this brilliance and still have absolutely no idea of what’s going on.’ Like the possibly apocryphal story (later fiercely denied) about the New York Times film critic Pauline Kael, who was said to be sincerely baffled as to how President Nixon won re-election in 1972 (he carried 49 states) when everyone she knew had voted for the hapless George McGovern, there are distinct intellectual dangers to being so entirely cocooned in a comfortable, if wholly unrepresentative, bubble. Advanced-stage otherworldliness and an ingrained intellectual arrogance make true analysis almost an impossibility.

Sure, NGO Man (and Woman) would placidly reply, there are Neanderthal outliers (such as the two of us who were not properly vetted before being allowed in the inner sanctum) who still believe in the nation state, but the very transnational nature of today’s problems will soon make them appear to all to be the reactionaries that they are (never mind that the rising powers in today’s world such as the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) share little in terms of common values except for a strongly nationalistic distrust of the West and the governance frameworks that have been designed for an Atlantic world). The fact that these rising powers are self-evidently nation-states–proving to all not basking in delusion that the new multipolar era demonstrates that the Westphalian state system is above all, alive and well-would never be brought up at The Four Seasons.

However, it is their last, common, wholly wrongheaded assumption that all states inherently share overwhelmingly binding universal values and norms, which is their self-evident truth that is most out of step with reality. Paradoxically, by believing the unbelievable (if the real multipolar world outside the hotel is to be finally taken into account), NGO Man dooms true initiatives at global governance to sure failure, making efforts to endeavor to make the planet a genuinely better place come to naught. Obliviousness in the end isn’t just about harmless self-delusion; intellectually NGO Man gets in the way of solving the very problems he spends so much time purporting to ‘care’ about.

The Common Values Chimera

Especially in Europe (though America is far from immune), one tired conversation dominates most European institutions and forums, threatening to become a fatal liability, distancing the EU from the new capitals that influence global decision making in Asia, Africa and Latin America. It is Europe’s obsession with “Common Values” and the Don Quixote-like quest for “Common Humanity.” Wasting time and intellectual capital looking for this faux Holy Grail is doing nothing less than preventing the global community discovering vital common ground on the key issues that the emerging multipolar world is confronted with. Be the issue of climate change, political intervention in unstable nations, or over broader geopolitical stability, spending time trying to find the fool’s gold of universal values gets in the way of cutting the interest-based deals that will actually make the new multipolar world work.

This European obsession also leads to an analytical failure at the geopolitical level, blurring Western understanding of the new ‘clubs’ such as the BRICS and explains their comforting dismissal of the reality that much has changed, due to the fact that the BRICS themselves seemingly share little in terms of ‘Common Values.’ From Brussels’ point of view how can such an organization (let alone its constituent members) matter if it doesn’t adhere to the Gospel of Monnet? But the BRICS do share common interests, with three among them being the most important. First, all BRICS countries stress there must be a stable external environment that cannot and must not be jeopardized by partisan interventions in Iran and other parts of the Middle East and Africa; in other words, contrary to NGO Man, state sovereignty still matters and non-intervention is also a viable political choice.

The Iranian nuclear crisis is a case in point. The usual, half-cocked Western intervention–in this case an ineffective bombing strike by either Israel or the US that would have to be repeated–would amount to a geostrategic calamity (immeasurably strengthening the mullahs, quite possibly destabilizing broadly pro-Western governments in places like Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, and setting back any hopes of stability in the region for a generation). Average Iranians and the Arab street may well hate and distrust the current leadership in Tehran; this does not mean that their distaste translates into obvious support for the West to bomb Iran into a recognition of its errors in ignoring the universal Hegelian virtue of negotiating in good faith.

Instead a realist response-which allows that interests and not values must be paramount if effective agreements are to be arrived at in this new era-impels a different way forward. If states themselves (such as Iran) are threatening the regional balance of power, closer ties between threatened countries within a region as well as between its major players and offshore balancing allies (such as the U.S.) are the chess move needed, rather than violating the offending country’s sovereignty due its less than dogmatic devotion to universal values or its inability to join the conversation in a language that it just does not recognize. Rather, extended deterrence based above all on the truly universal interest of physical survival) is the way forward, an approach seemingly and inexplicably abandoned by the Obama administration.

The second common BRIC interest is that an accountable and stable global financial regime must evolve-with a far greater say for the rising economic powers– the promises for which remain unfulfilled since 2008/09. The unambiguous and ambitious Delhi Declaration by the BRICS Heads of State served as a timely reminder to the Atlantic powers of the strength of the impulses that have brought the BRICS member nations together in the first place.

The message that went out was that the BRICS members will gradually begin to institutionalise an alternative path in terms of financial and economic governance. Be it the BRICS Development Bank initiative, the trade settlement processes, or teaming up on resisting the ‘carbon tax’ unilaterally announced by the EU, these countries are beginning to realize the importance of reframing the rules and perhaps changing the game itself.

In parallel, as this possible transition occurs, they will continue to demand progressive reforms in the existing structures of global financial governance. Their meeting on the sidelines of each G-20 meeting may not have resulted in their putting up a common candidate for the IMF as of yet, but these interactions (this new pattern of standardised consultation) will continue to strength their common ambition to push for reforms of outmoded Bretton Woods Institutions which have failed to even uphold the fundamental tenants of equity and inclusiveness on which they were built (or achieve the still more lofty goal of absolute poverty reduction).

At the recent and much written about Delhi Summit, while Western media and critics were dismissing these interactions as insignificant and unsustainable, the BRICS nations were drawing up a blueprint for a common development bank for the LDCs (Less Developed Countries), local lines of credit for trade, and an alliance of national BRICS stock exchanges. While such developments may not necessarily lead to long-term cooperation on other issues of significance, they will certainly fortify and greatly extend common interests in the areas of trade and finance. Representing nearly half of the global population, and a similar proportion of global growth, BRICS economies are no longer willing to be rule-takers on issues which are inherently crucial to their development trajectories. For the wise, this can be read as a sign of the coming outright rejection of the Washington consensus. That the Atlantic powers will have to accommodate this paradigm shift is certain; how they will respond remains a seminal mystery of the new age.

Finally, the BRICS all agree on a far greater global emphasis (if not commitments) on the development and poverty reduction efforts in Asia, Africa and Latin America and the fact that “green capitalism” or “green values” are new hurdles that BRICS must stand up against. No developing power is likely to commit economic suicide to make over-privileged Western Greens happy. In many ways, the recently concluded Rio+20 Summit seemed to mark the end of climate multilateralism, with countries failing to agree on anything substantial, despite the hype and hoopla preceding it. In an increasingly uncommon world, it is irrational to expect global binding commitments on issues as complicated and contested as climate change or sustainable development. In fact-far from being a shared value–the definition of the term “Sustainable” is contested itself. What implies inclusive growth and poverty alleviation for one, means stifling ‘Green Capitalism’ for the other.

However, this basic schism has been obscured over the many rounds of negotiations and many conferences convened and attended by NGO Man. It should be understood that the emergence of the BRICS on the global economic and political stage does not necessarily signal a default willingness to shoulder responsibility for historical emissions. Moral arguments may get you fair round of applause at The Four Seasons, but if you want a deal, then Atlantic countries need to vacate carbon real estate or pay the rent for squatting on it to accommodate for their ‘lifestyle emissions’.

With the average per capita consumption of primary energy of the BRICS members is still only a fraction of OECD averages, the notion of universal responsibility for the fate of the planet is redundant from the outset. No nation-state can be pinned down by narratives of universal moral accountability and culpability, given the real context. A man barely surviving on a dollar or two a day has no obligation, motivation or reason to preserve this planet the way it is for the next generation. And yes, he disagrees with the President of the United States of America and the Green Evangelists of the EU on this; they simply sit in different structural positions. Giving him a better tomorrow may over time see us strike the deal that the annual climate circuses around the world have failed to achieve.

Acquainting NGO Man With the Realities of our Times

It is well past time for Europe and the West as a whole to wake up to the world they actually live in and now move towards the more workable paradigm of “Shared Interests and Shared Prosperity”, terms that flow from the vocabulary of the “realist” camp, acknowledging that beneath every façade, nations and societies share only one common value, that of self-preservation based on self-interest. Sure, some of these interests do become normative and can be classified as values, but that they remain ‘interests’ above all must be recognized and in an indulgent and modest moment, negotiated as well. ‘Values’ lead to deadlocks and rigidities, ‘interests’ are often tradable, and when primary interests clash, well, at least one knows the score. This approach offers a far greater global potential for great powers old and new to collaborate and cooperate than the parochial, annoyingly moralitic, valuesbased approach that is viewed by most outside of the EU as a not-so-subtle attempt to impose European interests by the back door, despite objectively lacking the power to do so. A man in the gutter and a man in a mansion will share only one common value – self-interest and self-preservation. While the former will seek ways to reach the mansion, the latter will undoubtedly discover rules to remain there. But this fetish with values and the lack of agreement on their universal existence and definition is not the only intellectual challenge that efficient global governance is confronted with today. The concept of sovereignty–and the very different individual experiences of nation-states that compel them to define this critical notion differently–is another potential stumbling block.

For example, the US certainly does not share the diluted notion of sovereignty so common within the EU; as former Defense Secretary Robert Gates made abundantly clear, if Europe continues to free ride on American defense spending in NATO soon it will not be seriously consulted on the strategic issues of the day, common values or no. For America, NATO has always been a means to an end, not Valhalla in itself, as Europeans complacently believe. Rather, the perilous state of the American economy and its increasingly fraught domestic politics are already altering its role as a global policeman and as things get ever harder, a more inward-looking America is inevitable, based on its overriding economic interest to right its fiscal ship.

Similarly, the BRICS and other emerging power centers view this transition period of their relative rise as precisely the time to consolidate their sense of nationhood and to reclaim sovereignty from the formerly Western-dominated world. Again, Europe is the global intellectual outlier. Global governance in the new world we actually live in must be founded on the notion that sovereignty actually matters far more than those in many European capitals so fatuously think. If the BRICS are to be made stakeholders in the new era, alongside the older, western powers, this is the first negotiation and accommodation that must take place.

The third reality of our times is that large economies in the Indo-Pacific region (India, China and some others) with low-income populations will now be the fulcrum for governing the most important regions of the world; if they succeed the new primary engine of global growth will be safeguarded, if not, we will live in a far more hostile planet. Due to their own troubles and relative economic decline, the US and EU will increasingly need to carve out partnerships with India, China and the ASEAN countries to secure the sea lanes, manage the rules of trade, secure property and property rights and ensure peace and stability at this hinge point of multipolarity. This dependence on large emerging economies–which for a long while will remain relatively poor–will change the very ethos of global governance.

Due to this sea change, global priorities are bound to change as well. Growth and not human rights will dictate the agenda. Industrialization will trump environmentalism and poverty alleviation will define sustainable development. The implementation of governance will alter dramatically. Due to the core difference in the understanding of sovereignty, partnerships between the Atlantic countries and countries of the Indo-Pacific will be tested. On the other hand, partnerships could strengthen when instead of patronizing sermons, efforts are made to accommodate the views, interests and needs of all based on the fruitful search for shared interests. So how to make sense of this confusing new world? The primary rule of the road must be the unbreakable link between burden sharing and power (or responsibility) sharing. This basic principle (while easily applied in terms of the voting weights controversy in the IMF and World Bank) must become nothing less than the new mantra for the multipolar age. For it is the only hope for future global governance efforts, based as it is on the only durable political factor in the world….actual power realities.

Of course, this fundamental global change takes place on a continuum; it will take several decades for the transition from a Western-dominated world to a world with many powers (with the BRICS leading the economic way) to be completed. But as the global financial crisis made clear, change may be occurring far more rapidly than anyone could have imagined. Along the way, a fading west and a ‘not-yet-up-toit’ rest could well drop the ball over vital global governance issues, resulting in what Ian Bremmer (somewhat apocalyptically) has referred to as a G-0 world, where nothing much gets done.

It is time for Europe to get over it. Nations will not have common values, because nations themselves are a collection of diverse historical experiences and ambitions. However, there is no need to throw in the towel over global governance, for nations can have a vision for shared prosperity with different approaches to get there. To make all this work, there must be some common macro rules for the road for achieving this shared prosperity (the greatest common interest of all) and these must be negotiated on the realist terms of common interests and not through the fruitless semantics of ethics and morality. It’s time for NGO Man to leave the hotel and xperience the new world that has sprung up while he was inside; the multipolar era needs realism to work.

(Dr. John C. Hulsman is President and Co-Founder of John C. Hulsman Enterprises (www.john-hulsman.com), an international relations consulting fir, and a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He is also the author of all or part of 10 books, including Amazon bestsellers Ethical Realism, The Godfather Doctrine, and most recently an acclaimed intellectual biography of Lawrence of Arabia, To Begin the World Over Again. Samir Saran is Vice President at the Observer Research Foundation and Chairman and CEO of ‘g_trade’, the creators of the 3rd dynamic green index, ‘BSE Greenex’ at the Bombay Stock Exchange. He is author/co-author and editor of a number of publications including Re-imagining the Indus, Navigating the Near, Radical Islam and BRIC in the New World Order. This expanded essay flows from an earlier op-ed written for the Times of India, May 11, 2012.)

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Columns/Op-Eds

Samir responds to the The Hindu “Who governs the high sea?”

by Samir Saran
July 2nd 2012, New Delhi
Please find here the original link to the article.
Please find here the original link to the article, Samir responded to.

At the outset it is misplaced to suggest the original opinion in any way lauded the use of firearms or the actions of the Italian Marines. It expresses apprehension that such incidents are likely to recur as armed response to threats on the high seas is seen as a viable one.

The reference to SUA is entirely misplaced. SUA was enacted pursuant to a U.N. Convention to contain acts of terrorism. The application of SUA requires sanction of the Union government. The Kerala government has for this reason made a statement in the Kerala High Court that it will withdraw the charges of SUA against the Marines.

However, one fact may clear the air further and that is the reality that St. Antony (the vessel from Kerala) is a fishing vessel and Enrica Lexie is a merchant vessel with Military Vessel Protection Detachments deployed to protect against piracy in accordance with U.N. Conventions and other laws.

“Incidents of navigation”, should not be misread as the term is interpreted in accordance with the scheme of UNCLOS, especially Article 94(7) which describes various “incidents of navigation” and includes within its fold instances such as the present one. While Article 97 applies to the High seas, Article 58(2) of UNCLOS pertaining to the EEZ specifically incorporates and extends Article 97 and others to the EEZ.

The flag state jurisdiction under UNCLOS is based on the floating territory principle viz., a ship under the flag of a state is under the protection of that state and is subject to the laws of that state. The Indian Merchant Shipping Act excludes fishing vessels from flying the Indian flag. St. Antony is not registered under the Merchant Shipping Act and was not flying the Indian flag. St. Anthony in fact is registered as a mechanised fishing boat and was authorised to ply only within Indian territorial waters, i.e. within 12 nautical miles. Thus the fact that the incident occurred outside Indian territorial waters is not in dispute. Thus there is absolutely no dispute about the jurisdiction of the flag state.

The reliance on the Lotus case is erroneous. The evolution of international law after the 1927 Lotus case has eluded the authors and UNCLOS, 1982 specifically derogated from the principles laid down in the Lotus case and gives exclusive jurisdiction to the flag state (Italy).

Italy is on thin ground on the high seas

Please find here the original link to the article.

Samir Saran and Samya Chatterjee have argued in their article “Who governs the high seas?” (June 26) that India is wrong in prosecuting the two Italian marines aboard the tanker Enrica Lexie for shooting two Indian fishermen. Italy’s contention — which Saran and Chatterjee have echoed — is that Enrica Lexie was under its flag. Hence, in accordance with the U.N. Convention of Law of Seas (UNCLOS), Italy should try the two marines. India’s position is that St. Anthony, the fishing vessel aboard which the two fishermen were killed, was an Indian vessel; and under Indian law and the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts of Violence Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation (SUA Convention), India has jurisdiction. India and Italy are signatories to both these conventions. But while Italy needs to show exclusive jurisdiction, India only needs to show that it also has jurisdiction.

Saran and Chatterjee do not discuss a larger question that provides a context to this case. This is the issue of Somali piracy and the danger of putting armed guards on board merchant vessels. In their view, the Italian marines were doing something laudable — controlling Somali piracy. What they overlook is the complaint of Somali fishermen that trigger-happy armed guards have been preventing them from fishing.

The collapse of the Somalian state meant that it was no longer able to protect its waters. To a great extent, the present problem of piracy has its origins in the complete collapse of the fishing industry. This collapse can be clearly linked to illegal fishing in Somali waters by foreign fleets and the dumping of toxic wastes.

For the rest of the world, the collapse gained importance only because the consequence — Somali piracy — threatens the trillion-dollar maritime industry. International piracy caused an estimated loss of about $7 billion in 2011 globally. As against this, the total annual illegal fishing losses worldwide is between $10 billion and $23.5 billion. This is the other “piracy” to which the international community is turning a blind eye.

The trial question

In the Enrica Lexie imbroglio, the controversy is not about the facts of the case, but about the question of who has the right to try the two Italian marines. The Italian side — which Saran and Chatterjee endorse — has invoked UNCLOS to assert its jurisdiction. Article 97 of UNCLOS, which Saran and Chatterjee quote, refers to a “collision or incident arising out of navigation” on the “high seas”. The shooting of Indian fishermen was not a collision; nor was it an incident arising out of navigation. It also did not take place on the high seas. At best it took place in India’s economic zone, which under UNCLOS is not defined as “high seas”. Italy is on thin ground here. Even if UNCLOS were applicable, the question of which is the flag state under UNCLOS remains. This requires a legal examination of where the “incident” occurred — on the Enrica Lexie or on the St. Anthony.

A case similar to the Enrica Lexie one was previously adjudicated by the Permanent Court of International Justice in 1927. In this case, a French steamer, the Lotus, collided with a Turkish vessel, the Boz-Kourt, on the high seas, killing eight of her crew and passengers. Upon the French vessel’s arrival in Istanbul, the French crew was tried by the Turkish authorities. France adopted arguments similar to those used by Italy in the present matter.

Holding against the French, the court, inter alia, observed that:

“What occurs on board a vessel on the high seas must be regarded as if it occurred on the territory of the State whose flag the ship flies. If, therefore, a guilty act committed on the high seas produces its effects on a vessel flying another flag or in foreign territory, the same principles must be applied as if the territories of two different States were concerned, and the conclusion must therefore be drawn that there is no rule of international law prohibiting the State to which the ship on which the effects of the offence have taken place belongs, from regarding the offence as having been committed in its territory and prosecuting, accordingly, the delinquent” (Emphases added).

India has also claimed its jurisdiction under the SUA Convention. Dennis Hollis, who writes a well-known legal blog Opinio Juris, writes that under Article 6 read with 3 of SUA, India can claim jurisdiction — an opinion also endorsed by a number of experts in international maritime law.

What remains of Saran and Chatterjee’s argument is that the Italian marines are in the service of the Italian state and so have “sovereign immunity”. If we accept that Indian courts have jurisdiction over the matter, then we should leave it to the courts to decide on this claim.

Prabir Purkayastha is with the Delhi Science Forum. Rishab Bailey is a lawyer.

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In the News

Samir featured in the Financial Express: “Watch the Green Ticker”

New Delhi, 29th of May 2012
Please find here the link to the original article and the website of g-Trade.

When you are investing in a company next time, just do not go for cash-rich companies. Rather choose the corporates that are ‘green’ efficient. And there is help too, to guide you make this decision. Three months back, Bombay Stock Exchange(BSE) along with g-Trade, a privately held company in India, had come up with a Green Index called Greenex. This is India’s first carbon-efficient live index listing the top 20 companies which are carbon efficient. As of now, only the carbon emission of top 100 BSE companies is assessed by this partnership and the index is created. But the aspirations of Samir Saran, founder and CEO, g-Trade are high. “We are in the process of creating a similar index across BSE 500 companies in the next six months,” he says.

The idea of creating something like Greenex came to Saran while he was studying in Cambridge and working on a project on energy efficiency. “I knew that we needed to reduce carbon emission intensity in our country and corporates will have to do this first. Thus, this was the best way to measure how environmentally efficient companies are and how they can improve themselves,” he says.

Now, the fact sheet: India is fourth largest carbon emitter in the world, behind China, USA and Russia. The European Union put together would be above Russia. Japan is after India. And to add on, Indian corporates (business and industry as a whole) contribute almost two-thirds of carbon emissions, other major contributors are transport, agriculture and waste sectors.

Saran spent 16 years in the energy sector. For a long time, he was working with Reliance Industries in the policy space especially with oil and gas and petrochemical sector. He feels that the corporate behaviour towards climate and environment of top corporates needs to be checked. “The main issue is that we need to manage emissions. Emission efficient and carbon efficient companies will manage the growth of our economy. And investment towards these companies should be encouraged. They should be given priority over companies that are less efficient by investors.” Even the government has committed voluntarily to improve the emission intensity of the country’s economy (GHG emissions/GDP) by 20-25% during 2005-2020.

Usually large companies come out with reports of disclosure of their carbon emissions under Form A of The Companies Act. The Companies (Disclosure of Particulars in the Report of Board of Directors) Rules, 1988 mandates a company to disclose, in its Director’s report, the energy conservation, technology absorption, foreign exchange earnings and outgo.

Form A does not include sectors like retail and supply chain. The government has identified the high energy industries and included it for disclosures by companies. It does not include new industries which have come up.

It also does not include all energy intensive sectors like electric utilities and oil and gas exploration and production firms. Saran says, “To derive a meaningful emission, we have derived our index by giving 50% weight-age to emission intensity and 50% to financial performance.”

Green effect on the balance sheet

Companies that are low on emission intensity (GHG/revenue) also generally perform well on financials—mainly due to their lower energy costs, better operational controls, better resource management, better general sensitivity, and better market image. This is a global trend. “Companies that have less carbon emissions are more efficient and are likely to succeed in the future,” says Saran.

Sample this: IDFC, a financial services company, being least efficient in the low emission intensity group, has underperformed the BSE Sensex by 31% between January 2010 and January 2012. The Green Index does not include big names like Reliance Industries, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), cigarette maker ITC and even IT companies like Wipro and Infosys. However, the names topped in the list are BHEL, GAIL, DLF and L&T.

Companies must realise that there are many benefits to be on the Green Index. Saran says that based on this index, banks would lend to green efficient companies on better interest rates. It would also help the insurance sector in giving pension funds. In the west, insurance funds and pension funds usually invest in green stocks only. This trend could also be followed in India. And in Europe, this kind of an index was developed 11 years ago called FTSE4good. This means that our country still has a lot to catch up!

But, what would make revenues for g-Trade? Saran is clear on this front too. “Some companies want us to create a customised index for them so that they know where can they invest. We also come out with exhaustive reports where we inform lenders and investors that where should they invest in India. This will help in foreign investment in India. We create structured products for big hedge funds etc who want to invest in different countries.”

Let us hope the Indian companies get green rich and realise that they will be incentivised on their efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

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BRICS, Columns/Op-Eds

Article in “Russia & India Report”: Putin 3.0: Creating hedges for the next decade?

Is Putin going to lessen the Russian dependence on stagnant European demand for oil and gas despite the favourable terms of trade and rely on the hard-bargaining China?

May 17th 2012, New Delhi
Please find here the link to the original publication

The Kremlin has recently announced that Vladimir Putin will be skipping the upcoming G8 meeting in the US sighting domestic concerns and will be visiting China on June 5-7 as his first foreign trip since being inaugurated as President. It is clear that Putin views Chinese demand for Russian oil and gas as a hedge against stagnant Western demand, particularly European demand for Russian exports which showed a huge 47% negative year on year variation in 2009 and is unlikely to grow at rates that will sustain the Russian economy for too long. However, China drives a hard bargain and its quest for energy security through import diversification and oil equity means that it will not accommodate for more than a minimum amount of dependence on Russian raw material linkages.

While his predecessor and protégé Dmitry Medvedev repeatedly emphasised the need for Russia to diversify away from its “primitive” focus on the oil and gas sector, Putin seems to be doggedly set on continuing his outlined profit maximisation doctrine by largely relying on the sector to fulfil social spending promises made during his election campaign. Russia recently surpassed Saudi Arabia as the largest producer of crude oil, and holds the world’s largest natural gas reserves.  Approximately 40 percent of the Russian Government’s tax comes from oil and gas related businesses. While Putin has been able to successfully leverage Russia’s natural resource endowments in the past, he is now faced with burgeoning structural problems including huge manufacturing sector inefficiencies, negative demographic trends, deepened socio-economic inequities and populist rebuttals to alleged systemic corruption under his oversight.

The European Union (EU) is Russia’s biggest market and the EU also accounts for around 75 percent of FDI into Russia. According to the European Commission, Russia accounted for 47 percent of overall trade turnover in 2010; a trend which has normalised after the brief disruptions caused by the global financial crisis. However Russia’s competitive advantage with the EU is largely restricted to the trade of fuels and minerals. Even with its massive oil reserves, Russia has lagged behind in the production of petrochemicals and refined oil. While the margins earned on refined oil based products in a globally integrated oil market may not justify expansion of production facilities and there is a distinct competitive advantage in favour of the “Global South” in terms of labour costs and environmental tariffs there are few explanations for the lack of emphasis on developing a profitable export oriented petrochemicals sector in the country. It doesn’t help that the recent socio-political turmoil adds to the disincentives created for any FDI investment flowing into the country.

Indeed Russia exhibits many of the symptoms of the “Dutch Disease”, a term that broadly refers to the deleterious effects of large asymmetric increases in a country’s income, most commonly associated with discovery of natural resources such as crude oil. While there is no consensus about whether the country suffers this affliction and indeed there have been significant per capita income gains as a result of exploitation of raw material wealth, there are real and palpable threats to sustained growth that need to be proactively mitigated by the establishment. A 2007 IMF Working Paper found that some of the exhibited symptoms included a slowdown in the manufacturing sector, an expansion of the services sector and high real wage growth in all sectors. Simultaneously, oil exports have increased by close to 70 percent over the last decade and the value of exports has gone up by around 620 percent during the same time span. Russian crude oil production recently hit an all time high, and Putin is determined to maintain production levels above 10 million barrels per day (about a third of OPEC’s total production) for a “fairly long time”.

In many ways, resource based linkages have guided and defined Russian foreign policy since the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Resources have also dictated Russia’s economic fortunes, which have traditionally fluctuated with the price of crude oil. Crude oil has quadrupled in value since the early 2000s, and at the same time, Russia has transitioned into becoming a Middle Income Economy with an incredible number of superrich. It is interesting to note however, that despite the asymmetric dependence on raw material exports, Russia’s currency has been depreciating. Due to the underinvestment in the manufacturing sector and the overall lack of competitiveness of the domestic goods, import growth has tended to outpace export growth. The current account balance as a percentage of GDP has declined substantially since the mid 2000s and with structural production ceilings being hit in the oil and gas industry, there is uncertainty about where the additional export growth is going to be generated. Putin seems certain that recently announced tax breaks for upstream oil and gas exploration projects and fiscal incentives for M&A activities will help fuel this production growth. Tax breaks have been provided for offshore energy projects with Western companies including Exxon Mobil Corp., Eni SpA and Statoil ASA.  Simultaneously he also plans to raise extra revenues from the resources sector to pacify some of the populist anger that is brewing through increased government spending, in particular by significantly increase extraction tax on gas suppliers.

Putin has an uphill task, to reassure foreign institutional investors of the legitimacy and stability of his political apparatus. In order to achieve competitive advantage in the export of petroleum related products, the Russian Government has ambitious goals to create six regional clusters of world class ethylene (the world’s most widely produced organic compound) production facilities and expects production capacity to reach 11.5 million tonnes per annum by 2030. This projection assumes a fundamental amount of investments and supporting infrastructure capacity building in the form of product pipelines, road and rail links. Distribution and feedstock concerns already plague the industry.

The seemingly irreversible economic meltdown in Europe must act as a trigger to stimulate new ideas and a break out of the traditional resource centric growth mindset in the Kremlin. Developing and emerging countries account for around 50 percent of global GDP in purchasing power parity terms and Russia must look to deepen integration through trade with these markets. China is but one of these and its sino-centric economic startegy may soon be an albatross around its neck. Moreover trade must be on the basis of a diversified basket of products on offer with emphasis on value addition.

The East Siberia-Pacific Ocean (ESPO) oil pipeline which is now operational has enabled Russia to bring oil to its remote eastern coast, from where it supplies to China, Japan and South Korea. The Chinese have been actively lobbying to get all of the oil transported through the ESPO, but Russian oil companies are naturally hesitant as they are unwilling to forgo the higher margins they receive by selling to Western countries. The Russian experience with the hard bargaining Chinese must not colour their prospective engagements with other emerging and developing countries. In the next few decades, global growth will be a function of how such economies in Asia and Africa perform, and in turn, so will Russia’s economic fortunes. Putin would do well to hedge away from dependence on European demand even though terms of trade may be favourable and fall in the comforting squeeze of the Chinese option.

Samir Saran is Vice-President and Vivan Sharan an Associate Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

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