There is serious scepticism about the intentions and potential achievements of the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) grouping. Many Western commentators have already declared its failure to sustain itself due to its inability to institutionalize and therefore implement a programmatic agenda. Brics is, therefore, perceived to be a rhetoric that, like the Non-Aligned Movement, will fade in the near future.
To the contrary, since it began to meet annually in 2009, Brics has made significant strides in cementing its permanency. Unlike other historical multilateral forums of the South, such as the Non-Aligned Movement or even Ibsa (India, Brazil, South Africa), Brics has entered an institutionalization era. Without commitment towards institutions, multilateral forums have a very slim chance of success.
The establishment of the Brics Think Tanks Council (BTTC) in 2013 was one such important milestone in the institutionalization agenda. Academics from the five Brics nations are able to engage in important conversations annually for the advancement of the Brics agenda and make recommendations to the Brics heads of state. The Brics Academic Forum of 2016 in Goa, for instance, made recommendations for the establishment of the Brics Rating Agency, which the heads of state endorsed at the Brics summit.
The New Development Bank (NDB) is another important development that sets Brics apart from other multilateral formations. Its objective of funding infrastructure projects in the developing countries and meeting the aspirations of millions through sustainable development would seem to duplicate the mission of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
However, we should bear in mind the perception that the Bretton Woods institutions (IMF and World Bank) preside over lending conditions that are neither developmental nor in the interest of the countries of the South. Much has been written about the adverse effects that structural adjustment programmes had on the African continent in particular.
It is for this reason that Brics agitates for the reform of important international instruments like the UN security council and the World Bank. To prove to the international community that reforms are necessary and possible, Brics applies its own fairer methodologies of engagement. For instance, NDB, unlike the IMF, applies equal voting power without provisions for veto powers. The bank will thus foster greater financial and development cooperation among the Brics nations as well as between the Brics nations and other countries of the South. With a population of around 3 billion people, comprising nearly 45% of the world population, and with a total gross domestic product of over 25% of the global market and growing, Brics will become an important global player of the future.
The BTTC Academic Forum recommended important developments in line with the Brics grouping’s institutionalization ideals. Among its recommendations were the following:
Establishment of an NDB knowledge hub or analytical support centre that will produce important data sets for the supporting work of the NDB on the economic development and performance indicators of Brics nations. This move will ensure less dependence on the data sets from the World Bank and UN subsidiaries on conditions within the Brics countries. The centre would provide intellectual leadership on finance, economics and trade within and beyond the Brics nations. In consideration of this important ideal, think how poverty at a global level is currently being measured and potential bias embedded in the measure.
The existing economic rating agencies are currently located in the north. The perception is that the work of these agencies is biased or somehow influenced for an outcome that does not favour the countries of the South. For this reason, the BTTC recommended the establishment of a Brics rating agency whose existence may help facilitate alternative ratings for the institutions and governments in the global South.
The international community currently trades through the use of the dollar, with major implications. It is therefore recommended that Brics nations should consider the implementation of currency swaps and settle trade among themselves using local currencies. Such a move would have major economic benefits for countries in the South that have very limited dollar reserves.
In light of the development support requirements for the African continent in particular, the implementation of these important recommendations would be a win-win outcome. As the Brics grouping continues its institution-building mission, it is important to remember that equity, redress and fairness should become cross-cutting ideals informing all initiatives.
It was the inability to uphold these golden principles, among others, by the international multilateral organizations that brought about the establishment of the Brics grouping—not Goldman Sachs, as many in the West would love to believe.
India’s presidency of Brics was, therefore, a successful one, with ground-breaking initiatives that have long-lasting implications for the grouping.
Godfrey Netswera is academic director for Brics at the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences, South Africa.
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