Global Insider: Intra-BRIC Relations
Kari Lipschutz | 30 Jun 2010
A 2008 visa-free travel agreement between Russia and Brazil came into effect earlier this month, spurring tourism and closer ties between the two BRIC countries. In an e-mail interview, Oliver Stuenkel, a fellow with the Global Public Policy Institute, discusses the potential for commercial and political cooperation among BRIC member states.
WPR: What is the current state of trade and visa restrictions between BRIC countries?
Oliver Stuenkel: Since June 2010, Brazilian and Russian tourists do not need visas to pass or stay on the countries' territories up to 90 days within each six-month-period from the first entry. This does not apply to those who seek to receive education or seek employment. This agreement between Russia and Brazil is still the exception, as both Indians and Chinese citizens need to apply for a visa prior traveling to Brazil and vice versa. The same is true for visa rules between China and India, India and Russia, and Russia and China.
While trade between the BRIC countries has recently increased sharply, especially between China the other three members, there remain formidable obstacles to better economic cooperation. For example, Chinese companies are regularly barred from investing in India on the grounds that they pose a security threat, although there are signs that India will ease some restrictions.
WPR: How might the lifting of visa requirements between Brazil and Russia impact the countries' developing commercial and political relations?
Stuenkel: Easing visa rules is part of a more far-reaching attempt by both governments to strengthen ties, which includes high-level deals to build up cooperation in areas such as energy, space and military technologies. It will also contribute to increasing not only business contacts, but also tourism, which should help broaden the BRIC's mutual understanding on a societal level -- a vital element to reduce the "trust deficit" between the BRICs. Yet, both Russia and Brazil are raw material exporters, and trade between the two is bound to remain insignificant in comparison with each countries' trade volume with China. Politically, Russia remains ambivalent about granting Brazil a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.
WPR: Should we expect to see a similar trend among other BRIC nations?
Stuenkel: All BRIC economies except Russia can be expected to grow strongly over the next years, and they are likely to increase trade with each other. Furthermore, intra-BRIC tourism will increase due to growing middle classes. These two factors may cause governments to ease visa restrictions, but it may take years until changes are implemented. Visa restrictions in India, for example, have tightened after the Mumbai attacks.
Brazil is a geographic outlier, being the only BRIC not located on the Asian landmass. Its commercial and political ties to Russia and India are therefore less significant, and there is only limited potential for growth. As the world's most competitive agricultural producer, Brazil is also unlikely to gain access to the Indian market, since Delhi is keen to protect the 300 million people who work in its highly uncompetitive agricultural sector.
China has strong and growing ties to all other members, hungry for raw materials from Brazil and Russia, and eager to sell its products to the growing Indian market. India and Russia have historic ties which they are likely to maintain.
However, the BRIC label cannot hide the fact that its members are vastly different -- in terms of size and political regime, for instance -- and that three BRIC countries face the prospect of potential geopolitical competition with one another. Russia remains highly suspicious of Chinese encroachment in its demographically declining Far East. And an unresolved border conflict between China and India, as well as growing Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean, strain Sino-Indian relations and may potentially contribute to further deterioration, undoing all attempts to build mutual trust.