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Crumbling BRICS

NEW DELHI – In 2001, when Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs coined the acronym BRIC to refer to Brazil, Russia, India, and China, the world had high hopes for the four emerging economies, whose combined GDP was expected to reach $128.4 trillion by 2050, dwarfing America’s projected GDP of $38.5 trillion. When the four countries’ leaders gather on March 26 in South Africa – which joined their ranks in 2010 – for the fifth BRICS summit, their progress and potential will be reassessed.

The summit’s hosts have set ambitious goals, reflected in the summit’s theme: “BRICS and Africa – a partnership for development, integration, and industrialization.” They seek to advance national interests, further the African agenda, and realign the world’s financial, political, and trade architecture – an agenda that encompasses objectives from previous summits, while reflecting South Africa’s goal of harnessing its membership to benefit all of Africa.

But, while strengthening ties with African countries might seem like the kind of pragmatic development issue that should bring consensus, the seeds of doubt are already being sown. Lamido Sanusi, the governor of Nigeria’s central bank, has called for Africans to recognize that “their romance with China” has helped to bring about “a new form of imperialism.”

Moreover, the central item on the summit’s agenda, a proposed “BRICS development bank,” is one that has gone nowhere at previous summits. This time, armed with a “feasibility study” put together by the five BRICS finance ministers, some progress may at last be made. With trade, both among the BRICS countries and between the BRICS and the rest of Africa, expected to increase from roughly $340 billion in 2012 to more than $500 billion in 2015, there is also much to discuss on the commercial front.