Page last updated at 10:34 GMT, Thursday, 15 April 2010 11:34 UK

Bric countries try to shift global balance of power

By Konstantin Rozhnov
Business reporter, BBC News

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev
Some think that Russia has been trying to turn Bric into a political alliance

Economists call them the "Bric" countries. Hiding behind the obscure title are some of the world's fastest growing and potentially largest economies - Brazil, Russia, India and China. Now the leaders of these countries are meeting in Brazil's capital Brasilia for the second Bric summit.

The inventor of the acronym Bric is Goldman Sachs chief economist Jim O'Neill. In 2001 he argued that "over the next 10 years, the weight of the Brics and especially China in world GDP will grow" and as a result "world policy making forums should be reorganised" in favour of the Bric countries.

Since then this economic grouping has taken on greater significance, culminating in a summit last year in Russia where the four nations talked about how they could best tackle the economic crisis.

The location of the first summit was poignant, because some critics say that Russia's economy is not strong enough to justify its presence in the group.

Others question whether the Bric states have a common agenda at all.

But Russian President Dimity Medvedev stresses the grouping's importance: "In recent years Bric contribution to the growth of the world economy exceeded 50%", adding that the four countries accounted for 14.6% of the world's economy.

He went on: "By strengthening the economic base of a multi-polar world, the Bric countries are objectively helping to create conditions for the strengthening of global security."

So while the original concept was an economic one, some think that Russia is trying to turn the Bric group into a political alliance.

Russian foreign ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko last week called Bric "a reliable pillar in the formation of polycentric, fair and democratic world order".

And Arkady Dvorkovich, the Russian president's top economic adviser, said that Russia wanted these summits to become a regular event.

Recovery hopes

Oil field near Tyumen in Russia
The Russian economy relies heavily on oil and gas revenues

The strength of Russia's economy depends heavily on commodities like oil, and was hit hard by the global financial crisis. Last year it shrank almost 8%, unlike the other Bric countries, which continued to grow.

Some experts described Russia as "an outsider in Bric" and said its economic expansion had "been brought to a screeching halt".

Mr O'Neill, however, defends his decision to group Russia with the other top emerging economies. He told the Financial Times that although Russia had "disappointed", it would "deserve its Bric status" if its economy bounced back soundly in 2010 and 2011.

While Russia's official GDP growth forecast currently stays at 3.1% for this year, the International Monetary Fund thinks that the country's economy will grow by 3.6% in 2010, compared with China's 10%, India's 7.7% and Brazil's 4.7%.

If these forecasts are correct, the Russian economy could pretty much return to its pre-crisis state, beating the developed economies' growth rates despite experiencing a huge fall just a year ago.

It might give Moscow a chance to silence those critics who have been saying that Russia was using the Bric platform to promote and push its own agenda at the first Bric summit, while not even deserving its place in the bloc.

Different interests

Though for years Brazil, Russia, India and China have often been talked about as a group, experts note that the countries' agendas are not exactly the same.

"What brings them together is that they are at the frontier of capitalism," says Christian Lohbauer, an international relations expert at the University of Sao Paulo.

A bank clerk counts US dollars and Chinese yuan
The yuan's exchange rate upsets not only the US, but Brazil as well

"But it's obvious they don't have a common agenda and their interests diverge and are [at] many times conflicting."

For example, Russia and Brazil benefit from rising commodity prices, while for China and India it is a completely different story.

Also, a top official at Russia's economic development ministry has said that China and India are among the 23 countries that limit free access to their markets for Russian companies.

This week China introduced a duty on imports of US and Russian electrical steel, accusing the two countries of selling the product at abnormally low prices.

For his part, Brazilian finance minister Guido Mantega said his country's manufacturers were being "harmed" by Beijing's currency policy, despite China being "an important trade partner".

However such differences don't mean the bloc can be written off.

Vladimir Portyakov, deputy director of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, says the Bric countries have already managed to come up with "some elements of the common position".

First of all, he says, they agree that emerging economies should increase their role in international financial institutions.

Mr Portyakov told the BBC Russian Service that there was an idea to use the Bric countries' national currencies in mutual trade and potentially turning them into global reserve currencies in the future.

Dollar's fate

At the first Bric summit, the group discussed the US dollar's status as the world's main trading currency, and the topic has made it back on the agenda.

Presidential adviser Arkady Dvorkovich confirmed the Bric summit participants would discuss the possibility of using the International Monetary Fund's own currency - called special depository receipts (SDRs) - as a global currency instead.

"I do not think we may expect any detailed decision on this currency at this year's meetings, though," he added.

A man rides a bicycle past a factory in Pinghu
The IMF forecasts that China's economy will grow by 10% in 2010

Brazil's foreign ministry official Roberto Jaguaribe also said, "Bric members agree that it is in their advantage to abandon the dollar in mutual transactions in the future.

"However, they also understand that haste in this process will result in losses."

Evgeny Yasin, head of research at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, told Russian daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta that plans to discuss the possibility of abandoning the US dollar at the summit were an attempt to put pressure on the world's leading powers.

He points out that any dollar instability would be potentially harming to China as it could hit Chinese exports.

Mr Jaguaribe's comments seem to support this view.

"None of the Bric countries is interested in rocking the boat too much, everybody is interested in the dollar and depends on it," he said.

'Active voice'

Another topic that was raised last year and will be discussed again this time is the role of developing countries in the world.

Brazil's President Lula da Silva expects the Bric summit to call for reforms of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

"We call for sweeping reforms for developing countries to have an active voice in defining their own future," Chinese news agency Xinhua quoted him as saying.

"Brazil did not become a creditor of these bodies for things to remain as before," he warned.

Jim O'Neill told the Times after the first Bric summit: "Today it's embarrassing that they [the Bric countries] are not involved in an improved version of G7 and G8, and, of course, the IMF and World Bank need to have their governance structure changed dramatically to reflect this.

"The advent of the G20 is a step in the right direction."

Experts agree that so far the Bric group has been much more about words rather than actions.

But if forecasts about the four countries overtaking the six largest western economies over the next two to three decades are correct, actions will undoubtedly follow.

"I suppose that the potential of the [Bric] cooperation should not be exaggerated and we should not expect fast results, but this potential definitely exists," said Mr Portyakov.



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