The Cracks in the BRICS

NEW DELHI – As it prepares to hold its latest annual summit in New Delhi on March 28-29, the BRICS grouping – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – remains a concept in search of a common identity and institutionalized cooperation. That is hardly surprising, given that these countries have very different political systems, economies, and national goals, and are located in very different parts of the world. Yet the five emerging economies pride themselves on forming the first important non-Western global initiative.

The lack of common ground among the BRICS has prompted cynics to call the grouping an acronym with no substance. To its protagonists, however, it is a product of today’s ongoing global power shifts, and has the potential to evolve into a major instrument in shaping the architecture of global governance – the midwife of a new international order.

After all, the BRICS economies are likely to be the most important source of future global growth. They represent more than a quarter of the Earth’s landmass, over 41% of its population, almost 25% of world GDP, and nearly half of all foreign-exchange and gold reserves. The BRICS, in fact, might also be dubbed the R-5, after its members’ currencies – the real, ruble, rupee, renminbi, and rand.

At the New Delhi summit, the BRICS leaders will discuss the creation of joint institutions, particularly a common development bank that can help to mobilize savings between the countries. Currently, the BRICS countries constitute a loose, informal bloc. If the group’s leaders fail to make progress on establishing an institutional structure, they will lend credence to the contention that it is merely a “talking shop” for countries so diverse that their shared interests, to the extent that there are any, cannot be translated into a common plan of action.