The role of the BRICS

brasilobserver - May 15 2015
Photo: Marcelo Camargo/ Agência Brasil

(Leia em Português)

At the end of April a panel organised by the Global Diplomatic Forum in London brought together, senior officials and an academic to discuss the evolving role of the BRICS (group formed by Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) in a changing world scenario.

The panellists were Obed Mlaba, High Commissioner of South Africa in London; Virander Paul, Deputy High Commissioner of India in London; Alexander Kramarenko, Deputy Ambassador of Russia in London; Alexandre Parola, Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of Brazil in London; and Jan Knoerich, Lecturer in the Economy of China at King’s College London. Younes El-Ghazi, Chief Executive of the Global Diplomatic Forum, led the conversation with audience participation.

In general, all the panellists made sure to point out, right at the beginning, that the BRICS are not an anti-hegemonic group. In other words, it is not the intention of the member countries to create mechanisms to replace the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund. These institutions, created after the so-called Bretton Woods Agreement, effectively shifted the control of the world economy to the United States after the Second World War. The idea for the BRICS is to create complementary forms of global governance, especially with the New Development Bank, or the Bank of the BRICS, created last year during the sixth group summit held in Brazil.

“We are not an alliance in the traditional meaning. We are not in a war against other nations. It is a matter of economic development, to promote the national interests of member countries,” said Alexander Kramarenko. The same line was followed by Alexandre Parola, who added: “The media often portrays us as anti-hegemonic, but it is not true. We are not against anyone; we are in favour of ourselves”.

But what about China? What is the Chinese interest? For Jan Knoerich, who was not representing the official position of the country, the focus of Chinese interest is the high demand for infrastructure investment in member countries and regions in which they are inserted. “China has the necessary expertise and needs the other BRICS to increase its influence in other forums,” said Knoerich. “But the idea is to supplement, not replace. It is more efficient to reshape the current system than create something new,” he added.

Echoing this sentiment, Obed Mlaba recalled that the Bank of the BRICS plan is not only to finance infrastructure projects of member countries, but also in other emerging countries. “There are many opportunities in Africa. From north to south, from east to west, the African continent is not connected. There is huge demand in infrastructure, so that to enable African countries to do business with each other,” he said.

The speakers also stressed the fact that there are no impediments for a member country to produce bilateral agreements with other nations. At this point, it was obvious that the general perception is that the current global system is insufficient to promote the necessary advances to the populations of developing countries. “The austerity of the West does not bring development,” said Alexander Kramarenko. Virander Paul added that “the mere fact that the BRICS group has been created is proof that the world has changed”.

Near the end of the debate, a member of the audience asked if the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), between the United States and 11 other countries, including Japan, can affect the economic ambitions of the BRICS. Given the fact that such a partnership has not been seen before, no one seemed willing to make assumptions. But Alexandre Parola used this as an example to reflect on how things have changed.  Parola said that the 21st century world is post-hegemonic, no longer centralised in one or two super powers. The very idea of ​​South-South cooperation is nothing more than a way to break the political and economic centralisation, that means there is no need for intermediaries when it comes to two countries of the same region, or with the same challenges to make agreements; it is a simply matter of developing common interests in a sovereign manner.

From this perspective, the role of the BRICS seems to be that they contribute to a world moving towards a multipolar order, where the performances of countries will no longer be in blocks, but in interconnected networks. Those who will come out on top are those who can act and influence as many networks as possible, in various topics of interest.


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