More Trade, Still No Political Clout: An Expert's Take on the BRICS Summit

 @Gooch700 on March 30 2012 1:57 PM

The BRICS nations -- Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - met for a summit in New Delhi, where, among other subjects, they discussed the possible formation of a joint development bank, closer integration of their respective stock exchanges, energy security and ongoing tensions in the Middle East.

Leaders from these five nations -- representing about half the world's population -- also talked tough against the West, including criticism of the monetary policies formulated by central banks, as well taking shots against the West's policies on Syria and Iran.

But what does it all really mean, given that BRICS represent vastly disparate countries at different stages of economic development?

International Business Times spoke to an expert on global economies to discuss the impact of BRICS.

Laura Gonzalez-Alana is an assistant professor of finance and business economics at Fordham University in New York City.

IB TIMES: The BRICS are proposing the formation of a joint development bank. How feasible is this project and what purpose would such an institution serve?

GONZALEZ-ALANA: Any joint institution would require, besides similarities in stages of development, similarities in political environments. For example, Brazil and India are established democracies, despite significant levels of corruption. On the other hand, Russia and especially China are tightly ruled by one group.

Trade agreements are possible, although there would be political difficulties (the relations between China and India are not that fluid), but a joint development bank is unlikely at this point.

IB TIMES: When the BRICS criticized the monetary policies of the central banks of the West, were they making more of a political statement or do they have legitimate concerns about Western financial institutions?

GONZALEZ-ALANA: Western central banks and financial institutions have been presented to the rest of the world as a kind of role model and paradigm of perfection for decades. Even if Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke denies that low interest rates are having any effect in the most recent crisis, it is undeniable that the real estate bubble was helped, fueled some may say, by relaxation of regulation and lower interest rates.

Furthermore, the institutions that were bailed out are not passing on the credit support as they were meant to -- indeed, cases of wrongdoing keep being discussed in the media, and some qualitative easing in the U.S. may have been avoided since that was deemed to be ineffective in the creation of jobs.

In short, there was some political opportunism in those statements by BRICS, but some justification as well. Clearly, the leaders of these emerging nations are seeking to find out what moderate, balanced model works best for each country at a particular point in time.

No formula is better than the establishment of democracy over dictatorial regimes.

IB TIMES: The five BRICS nations are wildly disparate and generally have vastly different economies and cultures -- and are also at different stages in their economic development. How can they ever speak with one voice and enjoy unity when they would presumably have different economic and geopolitical goals?

GONZALEZ-ALANA: I completely agree. As of now, they may be able to reach trade agreements, but that's about the extent of their potential agreements and unity.

IB TIMES: How do you assess the near-term economic challenges for some of the BRICS?

GONZALEZ-ALANA: The future of Russia and China depends very much on whether their political regimes are able to evolve and adapt, instead of interfering and disrupting their respective economic progress.

China is evolving toward becoming a more sophisticated and productive manufacturing superpower, with reliable supply chains and a more expensive, and increasingly more productive labor force (the Chinese are still a better option than Vietnamese workers, for example).

Chinese factories are moving inland, where real estate is cheaper. Internal demand is increasing and a financial reform is coming to depend less on exports and foreign investments, while facilitating investments abroad.

India is opening up to foreign investments, but infrastructure and red tape, as well as corruption, remain serious issues.

Both China and India continue to grow more rapidly than Europe and North America, but less than expected, and it seems more slowly than in the past decade.

Brazil is doing well, but it is not clear they'll be able to continue growing at the same rate, unless proposed reforms and attempts to curb corruption are successful.  

IB TIMES: Economists and analysts have forecast that by 2027, China will supplant the U.S. as the world's largest economy, while India will take over the number one spot by 2050. But aren't these predictions rather meaningless given the much larger populations of China and India? On a GDP per capita basis, Americans and Europeans will still have much more spending power.

GONZALEZ-ALANA: The U.S. population is losing ground in education -- has been for years -- compared to the accomplishments of general education in India and China, especially in the sciences. In Europe, despite immigration, the population is aging and shrinking, and old age-related health costs have become unbearable both in Europe and the U.S.

Immigration isn't correcting the problem. Reforms are still needed, besides health care and budget restructuring on both sides of the ocean.

The U.S. and Europe will continue as leading powerhouses, but there will be more balance, a greater sharing of power with China especially, and also with India.

IB TIMES: Within the BRICS itself, there must be internal conflicts and hostilities. For example, China and India are archrivals in Asia. Who do you think really has the most influence within the BRICS structure? I can't believe that India and Russia would allow China to dominate too much.

GONZALEZ-ALANA: That's correct. India's nuclear power is a deterrent toward two threats: Pakistan and China, with whom trade battles will not stop any time soon.

IB TIMES: Russia and Brazil are both huge exporters of natural resources and commodities and China and India are among their biggest customers. Does this mean that they are increasingly seeking to distance themselves from the old economic links to the U.S. and Europe? That is, could the BRICS eventually flourish on their own, without having much of a dependence on the U.S. and Europe?

GONZALEZ-ALANA: I believe, like many others have pointed out, that the BRICS want to protect and enable themselves by establishing a vast network of bilateral agreements, to cut down on dependencies and interferences.

IB TIMES: Over the next decade or so, what do you think the BRICS will be able to accomplish in terms of global governance, challenging the West's domination of IMF; infrastructure developments, etc.?

GONZALEZ-ALANA: Hopefully, besides improving infrastructure development, the middle classes of these countries will continue to become a larger portion of the total populations, while also gaining more purchasing power. Moreover, it is hoped that the lower classes will have easier access to clean water and education up to the age of 18.

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