Rio de Janeiro – Since the emergence of the Non-Aligned Movement, there has been no louder and more compelling call for a rethinking of the international economic system as the one issued this week in Brazil by the leaders of the main emerging powers.
In the space of one day, Thursday Apr. 15, two meetings destined to have broad repercussions were held in Brasilia: the summits of the leaders of the IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa) and BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) groups.
The futuristic design of the Brazilian capital, which just turned 50, was the symbolic setting for the two conferences aimed at modeling a different future, with an emphasis on the defence of multilateralism and the need for reforms in the United Nations, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank.
The fact that Brazil hosted the BRIC and IBSA gatherings confirms the influence of Brazil’s foreign policy and diplomacy and this country’s vocation to push debates on issues that were wiped off the international agenda by the neoliberal storm.
Some questions that have reemerged on the agenda are development with social justice, South-South cooperation, and the steady weakening of the dollar as a reference currency in trade transactions among emerging powers.
The coordination effort can also be interpreted as a determination to safeguard national interests and seek a new role in the formulation of proposals for overcoming the global financial and economic crisis that broke out in 2008.
IBSA and BRIC “are two important manifestations of a new order that is taking shape,” said Williams Gonçalves, a professor of international relations at the Rio de Janeiro State University and author of several books on the question.
“In the immediate post-Cold War period, the international system of power became unipolar,” and the United States “had the chance to command on its own,” he told IPS.
But “whether due to the nature of the process or to mistaken choices by its leaders, the United States did not manage to maintain that privileged position,” Gonçalves said.
In his view, “today no stable international order is possible unless the powers represented in IBSA and BRIC are strongly committed to sustaining it.
“Even though many of them are developing countries with serious economic and social problems,” the positions they take “are extremely important to the consolidation of that order,” he argued.
The IBSA Dialogue Forum was created in 2003 as a coordinating mechanism on issues of mutual concern and to boost South-South cooperation on economic and other questions of international importance.
Since then, trade among its members has significantly increased, and the Forum now has more than 15 trilateral working groups, covering areas like economic, scientific and technological cooperation, transport, energy and tourism.
This week’s summit was IBSA’s fourth, and in the view of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, it showed that the grouping “has entered a phase of consolidation.”
One of the agreements signed in Brazil is for the joint production of two satellites, one for earth observation and the other for weather and climate studies. “This project is a symbol of the new phase we are entering,” Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said.
The initiative will benefit sectors like agriculture and transportation, while expanding the three countries’ knowledge about space.
“South Africa is especially excited with the IBSA satellite proposal. We see this initiative as an opportunity to reinforce our shared development objectives,” said President Jacob Zuma.
The leaders of the three IBSA countries also stressed the need for reforms of the international financial system and the United Nations.
Singh said “There is an urgent need for reform of the United Nations, including the Security Council, by making it more democratic and representative,” while Zuma stressed that multilateral institutions must provide a better response to the needs of the poor.
Lula expressed support for South Africa and India as candidates for new seats on the Security Council, which all three IBSA members may form part of in the next few years, since Brazil was elected as a non-permanent member for the 2010-2011 period.
The leaders also called for a conclusion to the World Trade Organisation’s Doha Round of multilateral talks on trade liberalisation, which Lula described as “an urgent task, because it will help correct the anomalies” of the system.
Singh emphasised the high priority that IBSA places on civil society participation. “We have made a conscious effort to ensure that our interaction goes beyond just the government level…Strengthening of dialogue among civil society…is an important dimension of IBSA activities.”
He said that six forums that met in Brasilia this week – bringing together parliamentarians, women, journalists, small business, local government and academics – were “a clear testimony of our commitment to building bonds of friendship and understanding among our people.”
Lula underscored the role of the IBSA Fund, to which each member state contributes one million dollars a year, in supporting “the reconstruction of Haiti” in the wake of the devastating Jan. 12 quake and in financing social projects in Guinea-Bissau, Palestine, Cambodia and other vulnerable areas.
“You don’t have to be rich to show solidarity,” he said.
The IBSA foreign ministers met with their Palestinian National Authority counterpart Riad Al-Malki and declared their support for the creation of a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 borders, talks with broad international participation, and a halt to Jewish settlement activity.
BRIC by BRIC
The first BRIC summit was held in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg in 2009. The four countries account for 40 percent of the world population, 14.6 percent of GDP and 12.8 percent of international trade.
Unlike IBSA, the grouping puts a priority on economic questions and is aimed at strengthening the four member states’ influence on trade – for instance, in pushing for the elimination of developed countries’ farm subsidies – based on their growing economic clout.
According to the IMF, by 2014, BRIC will be responsible for 61 percent of global economic growth, which will help offset the U.S. slowdown.
BRIC is also calling for more democratic and transparent multilateral financial institutions, and the countries are quietly discussing the possibility of using their own currencies in mutual transactions and gradually abandoning the dollar.
But China holds some 750 billion dollars in U.S. treasury bonds and does not want to aggravate the huge U.S. deficit, which could pose a security threat to China itself.
In bilateral meetings with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Singh, Lula addressed the question of Iran’s nuclear programme and “defended the idea that it is still possible to negotiate an agreement” without imposing new sanctions, Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said.
Professor Antonio Carlos Peixoto, a former secretary of international relations in the Rio de Janeiro state government, said he was skeptical about the capacity of these groups, especially a coalition like BRIC, to achieve real unity.
“There is some room for circumstantial agreements, but how can anyone be sure that these alliances have a future?” he remarked.
China is no longer at the same level as the rest of the BRIC members because within just a few years it will be competing for top economic power status with the U.S. And the fact that Brazil is the group’s only non-nuclear country gives rise to a contradiction that could become more complicated in the future, the analyst said.
“And this without mentioning that India and Brazil aspire to seats on the U.N. Security Council as permanent members, which is, at least for now, impossible,” Peixoto said.
In his view, China has no interest in seeing India sit on the Council, due to rivalries between the two countries, but also because it does not want to give Japan any chance of pushing for membership itself. The same goes for Russia. “And Russia and China have veto power” on the Council, he said.
Another question still up in the air, Peixoto said, is what Brazil’s foreign policy will look like after the October general elections.
“We’ll have to see what results come out of the polls to evaluate whether Lula’s foreign policy focus will remain in place,” he said.
With additional reporting by Mario Osava (Brasilia).