Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The "BRICS" Propose a New Multilateral Bank

Sources:
BRICS Joint Statistical Report: Economic and Social Indicators Comparison of BRICS Countries
International News, The: World Bank Chief Backs BRICS Idea
Macau Daily Times: Rising Powers Mull Bank for Developing Nations
Telegraph, The: Robert Zoellick Calls for BRICS Bank

Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, collectively known as the “BRICS,” are five of the most important emerging economies. At their joint financial summit in New Delhi during the week of March 27, 2012, the BRICS officially proposed a new developmental bank, which would serve as an alternative to other development banks such as the World Bank. The outgoing World Bank president, Robert Zoellick, said that he would support a World Bank program to work with the BRICS to make their plan for a new bank a reality. Such a move would not be unprecedented, as the World Bank has previously assisted in the creation of the Islamic Development Bank and the OPEC Fund.

Zoellick does not believe that ignoring the BRICS is a good economic decision, as the countries are already serious players in the world economy. Collectively they account for 18% of the world’s GDP, 40% of the world’s population, 15% of global trade, and 40% of global currency reserves. Many financial experts expect the BRICS’s economies and political influence to continue growing in the future.

Some political experts view President Obama’s nomination of an American to lead the World Bank (instead of a person from the BRICS or another emerging economy) as adding momentum to a BRICS bank. The BRICS believe that the World Bank does not effectively address the unique needs of developing countries. They believe that a World Bank president from an emerging market economy could help address this issues. However, Obama’s nomination of an American is in line with past practice, as an American has always been the leader of the World Bank. The BRICS bank would focus on middle-income countries and be largely free from the political influences of advanced economies.

However, political experts are concerned that because the BRICS do not have one coherent foreign policy, it will be difficult for the countries to pool their economic resources and settle on an aid strategy. The lack of agreement was recently demonstrated when the BRICS failed to unite behind one nominee for World Bank president. Political experts are also concerned about the vast difference in economic power between the BRICS. For example, Brazil’s GDP was $2,090 billion in 2010, while China’s was $5,879 billion, India’s was $1,293 billion, Russia’s was $1,465 billion, and South Africa’s was $363 billion. China also has $3.2 billion in foreign currency reserves, an amount much higher than any of the other BRICS. Because China has the largest economy and currency reserves, it will likely want to permanently lead the bank—a proposal that India and Russia would likely reject. Additionally, unlike the World Bank, where the leadership generally consists of democracies, the BRICS bank would represent an authoritarian government (China), a quasi-democratic government (Russia), and several democracies (India, Brazil, and South Africa).

With the fast-growing economies of the BRICS, the countries have the funds and political will necessary to create their own development bank. However, the exact structure of that bank and the World Bank’s potential role in its creation remain unclear. While the BRICS have numerous differences, both political and economic, a developmental bank backed by the five countries’ immense economic power would have the ability do much good in the world.