The BRICS group of emerging-market powers kept up the pressure on Thursday for a revamped global monetary system that relies less on the dollar and for a louder voice in international financial institutions.
The leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa also called for stronger regulation of commodity derivatives to dampen excessive volatility in food and energy prices, which they said posed new risks for the recovery of the world economy.
Meeting on the southern Chinese island of Hainan, they said the recent financial crisis had exposed the inadequacies of the current monetary order, which has the dollar as its linchpin.
What was needed, they said in a statement, was "a broad-based international reserve currency system providing stability and certainty" — thinly veiled criticism of what the BRICS see as Washington's neglect of its global monetary responsibilities.
The BRICS are worried that America's large trade and budget deficits will eventually debase the dollar. They also begrudge the financial and political privileges that come with being the leading reserve currency.
"The world economy is undergoing profound and complex changes," Chinese President Hu Jintao said. "The era demands that the BRICS countries strengthen dialogue and cooperation."
In another dig at the dollar, the development banks of the five BRICS nations agreed to establish mutual credit lines denominated in their local currencies, not the U.S. currency.
The head of China Development Bank (CDB), Chen Yuan, said he was prepared to lend up to 10 billion yuan to fellow BRICS, and his Russian counterpart said he was looking to borrow the yuan equivalent of at least $500 million via CDB.
"We think this will undoubtedly broaden the opportunities for Russian companies to diversify their loans," Vladimir Dmitriev, the chairman of VEB, Russia's state development bank, told reporters.
ALL DOWN TO THE BRICS
The call by the BRICS for a new monetary order are not new.
But, coming hours before a meeting in Washington of finance ministers from the Group of Seven industrial nations, the traditional power brokers of the world economy, Thursday's communique showed the growing confidence of emerging markets.
Burdened by heavy debt, the United States, the euro zone and Japan are struggling to shake off the lingering effects of the 2008 global financial crisis. Rich countries will grow 2.4 percent this year and 2.6 percent in 2012, the International Monetary fund forecast this week.
By contrast, less well-off countries have emerged relatively unscathed. The IMF is forecasting that emerging and developing countries will grow 6.5 percent both this year and next.
"The quality and the durability of the global economic recovery process depends to a great measure on how the BRICS economies perform," Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said.
The leaders reviewed the global role of the Special Drawing Right, the IMF's accounting unit and reserve asset, which some experts believe could grow into a partial substitute for the dollar.
But they stepped around the issue of whether the yuan should join the SDR, saying only that they welcomed discussion of the composition of the SDR's basket of currencies.
A member-country official said the group was split on whether China's currency, which cannot be freely exchanged except for trade and investment purposes, met the criteria for being part of the SDR.
"There is a need for a broad-basing of the international monetary system. The SDR is an instrument to do that, but we still have no unanimity on the inclusion of the Chinese currency in the SDR as of now," said the official, who declined to be identified.
The SDR now comprises the dollar, the euro, the Japanese yen and the British pound.
"India has said that the SDR is an accounting mechanism used by the IMF, and countries such as Brazil have also said that this (the yuan) should be convertible first," he added.
Though keen on a more diverse global monetary order, Beijing has given no indication that it is ready to make the yuan freely tradable or to dismantle capital controls as the price for the prestige of being part of the SDR.
Emerging economies have already won more say in the way the IMF is run, but the BRICS leaders said they were still under-represented.
"We ... agreed on the need for the reform of international financial institutions in order to promote a just economic order," South African President Jacob Zuma said.
On the hot topic of capital flows, the BRICS called "for more attention" to the risks posed by massive cross-border flows of money but went no further.
The group said the world economy, of which its members make up nearly a fifth, still faced headwinds.
"The developments in west Asia and north Africa, and the aftermath of the huge tragedy that befell Japan, have introduced fresh uncertainties in the global recovery process," Singh said.
Swings in commodity prices are also a prime area of concern for the BRICS. China is the world's biggest importer of many commodities; the other BRICS members are major exporters of natural resources.
China hopes the group will be able to agree on a common stance on commodity price fluctuations at the G-20 summit in the French city of Cannes in November.
The main aim of the BRICS is to forge a common emerging-market negotiating stance on issues from climate change to world trade and to act as a counterweight to the West in settings such as the Group of 20 forum of advanced and developing economies.
The BRICS caucus is a work in progress. Thursday's brief meeting, held under tight security at a beach-front hotel, was only its third summit and the first to include South Africa.
The group brings together five countries that, though frequently united in their disinclination to do the West's bidding, are a political and economic mosaic.
"Our economic potential, political influence and our development prospects as an alliance are exceptional," Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said.
© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.