Lucy Corkin: a response to the ORF BRICS report

The Observer Research Foundation's comprehensive document, A long-term vision for BRICS,  synthesises a raft of policy documents that have been drafted since the official inception of BRICS in 2008 (later joined by South Africa in 2010). It is a candid examination of the challenges faced by the BRICs grouping in its attempts to forge a common vision that can be shared by the five member countries.

Despite their differences, all  share the goals of internal poverty eradication and broad-based economic development while leveraging their collective international weight to bring about reform in global governance institutions. There is some irony in the fact that while the BRICS countries underpin their transformative efforts by championing a  more equitable distribution of economic and political  rights in the global arena, one of the greatest challenges that BRICS face, collectively and individually, is how to achieve this amongst themselves, and also within their own domestic contexts.

This highlights the complexity of the issues which are at stake.

The BRICS have made it clear, rhetorically, that their initiatives do not mean to oppose Western-based institutions, but rather to present an alternative grouping in what is fast becoming a poly-centric world, thus better reflecting contemporary geo-political realities. However, it must be said that even the suggestion of such a set of structures represents a challenge to the global order of established developed countries.  And indeed it is.

Nonetheless, this must not be confused, particularly in the case of South Africa, with a mandate to regional representation of the Global South. As regional hegemons in their own right, all BRICS members, while systemically important to their regions, are viewed with some suspicion by their neighbours and, in the case of China and India particularly, by each other.

In advocating democracy in global institutions, they must not lose sight of the fact that they are themselves viewed by other developing countries as an elite club. These contradictions need to be accommodated.

In terms of pushing their agenda forward, I would suggest that economic and financial arenas provide much more fertile ground for innovation than the political sphere. Firstly, political developments always lag behind economic realities. Secondly, BRICS countries’ political agendas are much less in alignment than their over-arching economic objectives.

The ORF document makes several well-considered recommendations regarding the proposed BRICS Bank and various other initiatives regarding the development of integrated financial market mechanisms. The fact that these are under-developed only promises considerable growth prospects if the underlying structures can be gotten right.

It is here, that perhaps South Africa can finally reclaim its right to be a legitimate member of the BRICS, rather than relying on an awkward attempt to be the ‘voice of Africa’. South Africa has consistently been rated by a number globally-recognised monitoring bodies  in the top three countries internationally for securities exchange regulation and market integrity. Consequently the potential contribution of South Africa to this aspect of BRICS initiatives could be considerable.

The greatest challenge to be faced is for Chinese, Brazilian, Indian, Russian and South African actors believing their own governments’ high-level rhetoric, and taking the plunge on a micro-economic level that will redirect these countries’ financial futures towards each other, and away from the traditional loci of London and New York.

Progress in this area will encourage the organic integration of BRICS economies which will do much to soothe political tensions. Concurrently, increased participation by the private sector in BRICS-based initiatives will also allow the grouping to expand definitively beyond government-led ‘talks about talks.’

* Readers can access two other commentaries, commissioned by SAFPI, on the ORF report:  

 

 

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