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BRICS and Mortar

PARIS – Last week, the leaders of five of the world’s fastest-growing economies – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (the BRICS) – convened in New Delhi to reaffirm their common positions and assert their political autonomy from the West. But how effective are their declarations of solidarity? Have these countries coalesced solely to counterbalance the West? If so, will it work?

Answering these questions requires considering the group’s origins, about which two facts stand out. First, globalization enabled rapid economic growth for all of its members, which now account for more than 30% of global output. Second, the United States’ military campaign in Iraq highlighted the dangers – and the limits – of American hegemony.

In 2003, at the World Trade Organization summit in Cancún, Mexico, four of these dynamic emerging giants came together for the first time, under Brazil’s political leadership, to challenge US-European control of the institution. And they succeeded.

Since then – and with the addition of South Africa in 2010 – the group’s power has increased considerably, as they proved to be essential to worldwide economic growth in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. In this respect, 2012 will be a symbolic year, when non-OECD countries’ output will equal that of OECD members for the first time. Only 20 years ago, these groups’ shares of global GNP were 38% and 62%, respectively.