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BRICS nations stronger, but not always in unison

04 january 2012, 13:27
Singh, Medvedev, Hu, Rousseff and Zuma pose during the BRICS summit in Sanya. ©REUTERS/Handout
Singh, Medvedev, Hu, Rousseff and Zuma pose during the BRICS summit in Sanya. ©REUTERS/Handout
A slow but steady shift in the global balance of power toward the China-led BRICS club of emerging nations was confirmed in 2011, but it will take some time before its members can speak with one voice, experts say, AFP reports.

The BRICS -- Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa -- now account for roughly 18 percent of the world's GDP, 40 percent of its population, 15 percent of global trade and hold 40 percent of global currency reserves.

With a combined GDP totaling nearly $14 trillion, their economies have accounted for 30 percent of global economic growth since Goldman Sachs coined the BRIC acronym in 2001.

Intra-BRICS trade, which stood at 230 billion dollars in 2010, now amounts to eight percent of global trade.

The London-based Center for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) said in a report last month that Brazil has supplanted Britain as the sixth largest economy behind the United States, China, Japan, Germany and France.

And before the end of the decade, Russia and India are expected to move into fourth and fifth place respectively ahead of Brazil, according to CEBR and the International Monetary Fund.

Rubens Barbosa, a former Brazilian ambassador to the United States and Britain, believes that BRICS did reasonably well in 2011.

"I think that individually BRICS member countries fared well considering the economic crisis and compared with developed countries in Europe and USA and Japan," he told AFP Monday.

Barbosa thinks Brazil, which will host the 2014 soccer World Cup and the 2016 summer Olympics, has benefited enormously from membership.

Brazil, he noted, is now perceived as being "on an equal footing with the other three (China, India and Russia)."

With 50 million people and an economy worth only around 500 billion dollars, South Africa, Africa's leading economy which joined BRICS only last year, is the junior partner, dwarfed by its more powerful and more populous partners.

But with foreign investors increasingly looking to mineral-rich Africa as the next frontier, South Africa has positioning itself as both the gateway to one of the world's fastest-growing regions and the voice of its one billion people.

While critics see BRICS as riven by rivalry and conflicting interests, the club has shown resilience and thrived on the complementarity of its members.

China and India get access to the huge mineral, energy and farm resources of Russia, Brazil and South Africa to meet the needs of their people and fast-growing economies.

And China supplies cheap consumer goods for the expanding middle class of partner countries.

But their interests sometimes conflict.

"Brazil favors agriculture liberalization while China and India are more protectionist," said Lia Valls Pereira, an analyst with the Rio-based Brazilian Institute of Economics.

"China undercuts Brazilian exports in third-country markets and (its dumping) has undermined some Brazilian industrial sectors such as textiles and garments," he added.

All five members are united in their quest for a truly multipolar world order, including greater clout in international financial institutions such as the IMF.

But they have yet to speak with one voice.

"It is a gradual and slow process," said Barbosa. "I think that gradually BRICS will be able to speak with one voice on specific matters in international fora ... when their interests coincide."

Barbosa said the next BRICS summit in New Delhi in March will have to tackle "how to increase economic, financial and trade cooperation and also start discussing how to expand their action in order to speak with one voice in specific issues."

That gathering will be the fourth since the maiden summit held in Russia in 2009. Brazil subsequently hosted one in 2010, followed by China last year.

Adriana Abdenur, general coordinator of the Rio-based BRICS Policy Center, sees the New Delhi summit as "an important opportunity to see how much of the rhetoric of cooperation is translated into concrete initiatives, and to identify any new joint positions."

She told AFP that the group's credibility and cohesion also depends on whether they will be able to help solve the eurozone debt crisis.

On the diplomatic front, Brazil, India and South Africa have been lobbying to secure permanent seats on the UN Security Council.

Yet despite the BRICS's increased clout, experts see little chance of that happening soon, given the lack of consensus among Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, the Council's veto-wielding members.

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