Russia

India and Russia: Moving towards a 21st century compact

Original link is here

The recent summit between President Putin and Prime Minister Singh may have heralded a new inflexion point in the bilateral.

Pic 1

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during the press statement following Russian-Indian talks in the Kremlin on October 21, 2013. Source: Alexey Nikolsky/RIA Novosti

It would seem that India-Russia relations might have bucked the season of gloom. For years now, since Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov’s reorientation of Russia’s foreign policy eastwards, we’ve largely seen two governments making positive statements, not matched by actions on the ground and compounded by a general sense of drift. Adding to this has been a waning interest in India of all things Russian and vice-versa. Two close friends gradually drifting apart, a contemporary tale of the engagement between Moscow and New Delhi.

The recent summit between President Putin and Prime Minister Singh may have heralded a new inflexion point in the bilateral. On a cursory comparison of their joint statement issued on October 22 with the previous four summit statements, there seems very little change on the surface and if anything, these statements continue to remain an exercise in blandness. But connecting the dots we get three game changers, which while mentioned, have not been described under the strategic rubric that they perhaps should have.

Indo-Russian cooperation

Pic 2

The first is trade which stood at $7.46 billion in 2009, $8.53 billion in 2010, and $8.87 billion in 2011, and has suddenly spurted to $11.04 billion in 2012, registering a 24.5 percent growth year on year. This was the best performance of Russia’s top 25 trade partners. This is particularly surprising given the present world economic situation, the lack of growth of India’s world trade in 2012 and a marginal growth of 1.8 percent growth in Russia’s world trade.

Does this mean that India today has firmly established itself as a partner in more than just the fields of defence and energy to Russia? Are there initial signs of diversification visible? And how the two countries cement this increase in quantity, quality and diversity of trade will be crucial for the strategic partnership going forward.

The second is Russia’s determination to push through a free trade agreement with India – the comprehensive economic cooperation agreement (CECA). Given that most of this increase in bilateral trade has been in-spite of the two governments (outside of the defence sector), this is of particular significance. This will give the Indian private sector critical access to such landlocked markets like Belarus and Kazakhstan, which are part of a customs union with Russia. Not only does this give a fillip to India-Russia ties, it leverages the growing volume of India-Russia trade, to give the northern access to Central Asia, benefit of new economies of scale.

The former Soviet countries have for long sought a stronger Indian presence, be it economic or political in their efforts to balance China. But thus far, Indian attempts have been frustrated by Pakistan’s refusal to allow transit and the complicated international situation with respect to Iran. What the Russia route means is that India and Russia can now piggyback on each other and create serious strategic congruence and bring synergies into play like never before. But this development could additionally play another critical function. By creating a strong market in Central Asia that is integrated with India, it helps create regional pressure to bear on Pakistan to allow India transit with substantial economic benefits to itself.

In effect, Russia, if this game plays out well, may just end up becoming the ‘x factor’ that normalised trade between India and Pakistan. This is advantageous for Russia, since it would give it a pivotal geo-economic and strategic role on the world stage that it hasn’t played in a very long time with relation to big countries.

14th annual summit: Singh, Putin focus on trade, energy and defence
Pic 3

Lastly, the transactional listing of defence deals in the joint statements is symptomatic of India’s fear that it simply cannot compete with China vis-à-vis Russia when it comes to economic stakes. However, the trade figures should boost India’s confidence in its dealings with Russia. It now needs to take the bull by the horns and insist on a quality-quantity matrix that regulates future Russian arms sales to China. By formally affirming a commitment to maintaining India’s qualitative edge over China, Russia can do much to overcome the almost consistently negative press in India in this regard and bypass other minor irritants in the relationship.

It has never been a better time and never before has India come with this much strength to the negotiating table. In the end, reaffirmation and recalibration of Russia’ role in India’s future was prominent and the short and successful summit was capped by perhaps another nuclear submarine for India and a doctorate for Prime Minister Singh.

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.

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.

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.

Discussion with Open Magazine on BRICS: “Not just a talk shop”

29th of March, 2012
Please find here the link to the original article.

It may be an idiosyncratic club, but should it therefore be written off? As leaders of BRICS—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—gather in New Delhi for a summit to prove that their five-member group is something ‘solid’ (a word Indian PM Manmohan Singh has used in an Indo-Pak context), rather than just another talk shop, critics across the world have not been able to hide their derision. The interests of these countries are far too divergent, they mutter, to result in anything that could matter.

For exponents of the idea, however, the five represent not just a fifth of global output, but also a dynamic geo-economic bloc on the ascendant. It owes its name to a 2001 Goldman Sachs report that projected a world economy under BRIC domination (South Africa was admitted only in 2010) within half a century. Today, it is a club more than a clever acronym, and one with an agenda too. “[The group] seeks political dialogue towards a more democratic multipolar order,” says senior Indian bureaucrat Sudhir Vyas, adding that the global power shift currently underway calls for “corresponding transformations in global governance”.

The buzzword at the Delhi summit is cooperation. Says Bipul Chatterjee of Consumer Unity & Trust Society: “These leaders are likely to float the idea of a development bank to be capitalised by BRICS, or perhaps all developing nations, to fund the development aspirations of the poor world.” This aim has its origin in Manmohan Singh’s 2010 suggestion that the world’s surplus savings be funnelled into emerging economies short of capital for investment in infrastructure and other public utility projects. Says Samir Saran, a BRICS expert with the Observer Research Foundation: “The proposed bank could tap these savings by creating sovereign guaranteed debt instruments to leverage more money for these economies.”

The other area of mutual interest is trade. As a booster, of help would be an agreement among the five countries’ central banks to grant one another access to loans in local currencies. Saran says the BRICS platform would “offer the five ‘R’s: rupee, rouble, renminbi, rand and real” for trade payments as part of a test settlement mechanism, “before internationalising these currencies”. The goal here is to reduce dependence on the US dollar as an international means of exchange.

Sceptics do not see much coming of it. Yet, it is worth noting that the five have managed to get this far as a club without letting bilateral bickering get in the way. This in itself is commendable. Perhaps BRICS bashers should wait a while before writing it off.

BRICS, Steel, Mortar….and Money – Analysis of the 4th BRICS Summit in New Delhi

by Samir Saran and Vivan Sharan
4th of April 2012
Please find here the original link to the article.

With the Delhi Declaration, BRICS nations, which met recently in the Indian capital, have shown that they have the steel to stand up to traditional power structures, a cohesive vision to jointly respond to development challenges through institutionalisation of concrete mechanisms, and the determination to channel monetary power to strengthen markets, businesses and trade. The Declaration indeed gives insight into the gradual transformation of BRICS, from essentially a response mechanism crafted to address the various development challenges posed by the global financial crisis, to a forward looking entity seeking to enact and enable real global transformation.

The Delhi Declaration extends over 50 paragraphs which are all encompassing in some sense and address many relevant themes for BRICS countries and the developing world at large. The Declaration is significantly more impressive and comprehensive than the 16 paragraph Joint Statement of the BRICS Leaders at the first summit held at Yekaterinburg in 2009 and the sketchy and macro statement of purpose at Sanya last year. The Action Plan within the Delhi Declaration consists of 17 steps which will deepen intra-BRICS engagements. There are three prominent narratives that define the Delhi Declaration – reaffirmation of the UN framework for global governance, disappointment with financial regimes shaped in the mid 20th century and a confidence to tap into economic opportunities that exist within BRICS.

The Delhi Declaration has stamped the intent of BRICS nations to coordinate and collectively respond to global security challenges within appropriate frameworks that give precedence to fundamental principles such as international law, transparency and sovereignty. BRICS members have recognised and re-emphasised the centrality of the UN in dealing with regional tensions and they have explicitly outlined this for specific cases including the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Syrian imbroglio and the contentious Iranian nuclear programme.

The Declaration unambiguously states that “plurilateral initiatives” that go against the fundamental principles outlined earlier, will not be supported by BRICS. The Declaration is clearly against actions such as asymmetric trade protectionism, unilaterally imposed sanctions and taxes imposed on businesses. The EU’s Aviation Tax is one such example from contemporary policymaking. In terms of trade, there is strong emphasis on operating within legal instruments such as the WTO and institutions such as the UNCTAD for furthering the inclusive development efforts through consensus and technical cooperation.

The aftershocks from the financial crisis are still a cause of concern to the BRICS nations. The pre-occupation with Europe has distracted attention from the social transformation programmes and poverty alleviation efforts among BRICS members. The Delhi Declaration has spelt out the “immediate priority” of restoring market confidence and getting global growth back on track. The steps to address such concerns will include attempts to rebalance global savings and consumption, furthering of regulatory and supervisory oversight in the financial markets, increasing the voice of developing and emerging nations in global financial governance and the institutionalisation of financial mechanisms to redirect existing capital to tackle development imperatives.

The BRICS members have therefore announced a working group led by the Finance Ministers of the individual nations, in order to examine the “feasibility and viability” of a BRICS Development Bank. When formed, such an institution will likely be able to shift and contextualise the development discourse within and outside BRICS and therefore is one of the most significant actionable outcomes. It is evident that such a multilateral institution is not meant to compete with existing ones, but rather, to enhance lending and investment to create sustainable development trajectories. Contrary to expectations several high ranking Chinese policymakers, including the Assistant Foreign Minister, Ma Zhaoxu, have supported the idea.

The BRICS members have clearly outlined that the purpose and nature of Bretton Woods Institutions such as the World Bank, must shift from being essentially a mediation instrument to enable North-South cooperation, to one which can actually prioritise “development issues” and overcome the “donor-recipient dichotomy”. They have also called upon the World Bank to mobilize greater directed resources and enable development financing at reduced costs through financial innovations and improved lending practices. Indeed for BRICS, the focus on World Bank and IMF reforms has remained constant through the years, yet the Delhi Declaration articulates these concerns more lucidly than ever before.

Given that intra-BRICS trade has been consistently on the rise over the past decade, BRICS Leaders have endorsed the conclusion of the Master Agreement on Extending Credit Facility in Local Currency under the BRICS Interbank Cooperation Mechanism and the Multilateral Letter of Credit Confirmation Facility Agreement between their respective EXIM/Development Banks. Such steps to mitigate market risks and enable local currency transactions will only add to the existing momentum and build resilience in BRICS economies to global business cycle fluctuations and exchange rate volatilities. Notably, BRICS have also endorsed the market led efforts to set up a BRICS Exchange Alliance between the major stock exchanges of BRICS, which will enable investors to efficiently allocate capital across BRICS economies and invest in the BRICS growth story.

The unity and purpose of BRICS has been the target of speculation and scepticism from various quarters. With the Delhi Declaration, BRICS members have been able to assuage such doubts as they have begun to create a credible hedge against traditional global narratives of security and development. They have simultaneously been able to project that there is resolution within the group to deal with issues that are not only of immediate concern but even those that will need attention in the future. The Delhi Declaration paves the way for the institutionalisation of BRICS cooperation, making BRICS a significant transcontinental and politically united force. In Sanya BRICS spread wide to include South Africa; in Delhi they went deep to include substance.

Samir Saran is Vice-President and Vivan Sharan an Associate Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. The Foundation hosted the BRICS Academic Forum in March this year.