At BRICS track II meeting in Chongqing, focus lies on strengthening intra-BRICS cooperation

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At last week’s BRICS track II meeting in Chongqing in Southwest China, around 40 analysts from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa discussed the future of the grouping. The Chinese hosts had chosen “Adjustment, Innovation and Cooperation” as the forum’s subtitle – and this actually served as a useful guide throughout the 2-day conference.

One of the key question of the debate was how to adjust to the difficult global economic scenario, considering that recovery in the United States is sluggish and largely absent in Europe. The BRICS are already consulting and partially coordinating their positions at the IMF and the G-20, and in many instances they have been able to adopt common positions. For example, when the BRICS jointly agreed to contribute more than 70 billion US-dollars to the IMF during the G-20 meeting in Los Cabos (Mexico), they agreed that the quota reforms agreed upon need to be urgently implemented to restore the IMF’s legitimacy. They also jointly rejected calls for further taxes on their banking system, stressing that their banks had not been at the root of the financial crisis and should therefore not be “punished”.

Without the severe economic crisis in Europe and the United States since 2008, of course, the BRICS label and emerging powers in general would never have received the global attention they did over the past years. The BRICS’ capacity to continue their growth trajectories profoundly changed the way we think about the global distribution of economic power. Yet while some leaders from the Global South have expressed schadenfreude regarding the financial crisis in the West, the debate in Chongqing reflected a keen understanding that a quick recovery in Europe and the United States is in the BRICS’ best interest – hence their pragmatic decision to massively increase their contributions to the IMF.

‘Innovation’ was largely understood as ‘institutional innovation’ by the conference participants. The BRICS Development Bank received a particularly enthusiastic response. What was notable is how much the idea has matured since the 4th BRICS Summit in Delhi, when the presentations on the Bank by analysts were rather generic in nature. The South African representative who spoke about the possibility of such a bank offered one of the most detailed vision, offering a series of technical considerations that show how much work has been undertaken since the concept first emerged. Interestingly enough, it was the Chinese delegation which seemed most hesitant, contrasting Russian and Indian euphoria.

Yet despite the growing number of analysts who support the idea of a BRICS Development Bank, a lot depends on the viability report currently written by a task force composed of Finance Ministry officials from each BRICS member country. The report will be presented at the BRICS track I meeting in Durban (South Africa), in March 2013.

Finally, finding ways to increase cooperation between the BRICS (so-called ‘growth towards the inside’, as Ambassador Gelson Fonseca once put it) continues to the high on the BRICS agenda, for it is one of the least controversial issues. The remarkably frequent meetings between BRICS Ministers and technocrats over the past years have led to a multitude of initiatives – including in the private sector, think tanks and civil society – that are contributing towards closer ties.

The Chinese government’s decision to organize the event in Chongqing (rather than in Beijing, as one would have expected) was probably meant to show international participants that economic progress has long reached the country’s interior – and perhaps providing visitors with a different perspective of China.

Compared to previous meetings, it is notable how technical and specific the conversation among the BRICS countries has become, differing strongly from the vague declarations about a ‘new global order’ made frequently during the group’s early years. Decisions such as institutionalized consultations prior to G-20 summits of the creation of a BRICS Development Bank are of course highly political, but they are increasingly the result of technocrats cooperating behind the scenes, rather than leaders making grand statements.

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