Why Brazil benefits from BRICS membership
Next month, Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff will host the 6th BRICS Summit. Together with the BRICS-South America Summit, to which the Brazilian government has invited all heads of state in South America, it will be Brazil's most significant geopolitical summit in recent history.
Since the financial crisis of 2008, global order is undergoing a complex phase of adaptation to resolve the growing tension between economic multipolarization and international institutions that still reflect a Western-centered order, created after World War II when US GDP made up 50% of the global economy.
This process is irreversible. Given their vast populations, it is only a matter of time until China and India will reclaim their status of the global economic center, a position they had lost temporarily during the past few centuries.
The two main protagonists in this process are the United States on the one side, and China on the other. It is policy makers in Washington, D.C. and Beijing that will renegotiate the terms and underlying principles upon which international institutions are built. India may at some point become a third pillar in this emerging order, yet given its still severe domestic challenges, it will take another decade or two until India can reach China's global status.
Contrasting the other BRICS members that will meet in Fortaleza in July, Brazil finds itself geographically and geopolitically closer to the United States than to China. To many Brazilians, China's rise is still something abstract, and the number of Brazilians studying Chinese is remarkably low. In Brazil, there is no internationally recognized academic production on China.
Not so in Russia and India, where neighboring China has immediate and visible consequences. Yet China is already Brazil's most important trading partner, and negotiating its trade relationship with China is one of Brazil's key policy challenges. In this context, understanding China's vision - how it seeks to placate worries about its rise, how it thinks about the future of its currency in global affairs, and how it envisions dealing with challenges such as climate change and maritime security in the 21st century - is crucial for Brazil to successfully adapt to these new realities. Being part of the BRICS development bank, the first institutional manifestation of the grouping, will allow Brazilian economists to work directly with Chinese specialists, gaining much needed knowledge about Beijing's views on development. It is also a useful hedging strategy: If the World Bank continues to refuse to provide emerging powers with greater voting rights, Brazil can slowly begin to invest for into the BRICS Development Bank - or engage in both.
Brazil has a lot to gain from being a BRICS member. Aside from learning more about China, the BRICS South America Summit is proof of Brazil's convocatory power and regional leadership ambition, a role it will have to adapt in the long-term.
Furthermore, being a BRICS member has virtually no cost. Brazil's neutral reaction to the Crimean Crisis was not, as some analysts had suggested, a consequence of its BRICS membership. With regards to internet governance, Brazil’s stance strongly diverges from that of the other BRICS, showing that Brazil does not feel obliged to align with Chinese of Russian positions unless it wants to. Finally, Brazil's BRICS membership will not negatively affect Brasília's ties to the United States or any other international actor. Quite to the contrary, decision-makers in Washington, DC are likely to take Brazil more seriously because of it, as some in the United States believe Xi Jinping attempts to turn BRICS into a platform from which to advance China’s global agenda.
Many commentators still believe Brazil's BRICS membership is a anti-American project inspired by left-leaning ideologues. Yet that would be a dangerous, US-centric misinterpretation of global order and of Brazil's place in it. The BRICS have come together to create something without US or European involvement -- yet that does not make them anti-Western per se. For Brazil, the BRICS platform is a useful way to facilitate the diversification of its partnerships and to adapt to a more multipolar global order. Brazil no longer needs to choose between leaning more towards the United States or the developing world - it must have strong ties to established and emerging powers alike.
Therefore, reducing the commitment to the BRICS grouping (for example, by sending merely the vice-president to next year's summit in Russia) or failing to be an active member in the BRICS Development Bank would hurt Brazil's national interest. So far, being a BRICS member has only produced benefits for Brazil. There is no sign that this will change in the future.
Photo credit: Agência Brasil