What will the 5th BRICS Summit in Durban bring?

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Today a group of students made the first policy presentation as part of a scenario-building exercise on the future of the BRICS grouping, with a particular focus on the upcoming 5th BRICS Summit in Durban (South Africa). A first option, called "institutionalization", included a series of measures to strengthen cooperation between its members, such as a BRICS Development Bank, build a permanent physical secretariat, and strengthen efforts to align voting behavior in the IMF, World Bank and in other international institutions. The second option envisioned the maintenance of the status quo, allowing the BRICS to remain a useful but not overly important consultation platform.  Finally, a third option described how Brazil would slowly disengage from the grouping and focus on Mercosur instead, in an effort to strengthen ties with its neighborhood before projecting itself globally.

Regarding option 1, the presenters observed that while benefits of higher institutionalization could be significant, they were far from certain. They seemed open to the idea of a BRICS Development Bank, but rightly argued that more information was necessary to assess such an institution's utility from a Brazilian point of view. While the possibility of trying to more seriously coordinate and align voting behavior at the IMF, the World Bank and the G20 seemed attractive at first, serious divergences of interest between Brazil and China made this option unrealistic. Yet perhaps most interestingly, they said that considering the unequal distribution of power within the BRICS grouping, they feared that Brazil could see itself forced to align with China or India, even this did not serve Brazil's national interest. This raises the interesting question of how really holds the power within the BRICS grouping - a question that will become ever more pressing if institutionalization will proceed.

Their initial decision to recommend option 3 was largely justified by the need to promote regional integration in South America - both political and physical - in order to consolidate Brazil's position as an emerging economy, and that this should take precedence over global challenges. While China is important to Brazil's growth, China-Brazil trade is highly unequal, they argued, and fear about deindustrialization strengthens the voice of those who see the neighborhood as a life-insurance and shield against a hostile and overly competitive international economic arena.

During the debate, however, they agreed with a series of commentators who pointed out that option 2 (maintaining the status quo) was a virtually cost-free enterprise, and that discarding the concept was unnecessary given the marketing benefits Brazil derives from its membership.

Given that the BRICS grouping may be beginning to move closer to institutionalization, the kinds of doubts voiced during this debate are likely to grow more pronounced, and opponents of seeking closer ties to China and Russia (the two BRICS members most likely to arouse opposition in Brazil) will become more vocal and organized.

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