The biggest emerging markets are uniting to tackle under-development and currency volatility with plans to set up institutions that encroach on the roles of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
The leaders of the so-called BRICS nations — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — are set to approve the establishment of a new development bank during an annual summit that starts Tuesday in the eastern South African city of Durban, officials from all five nations say. They will also discuss pooling foreign-currency reserves to ward off balance of payments or currency crises.
“The deepest rationale for the BRICS is almost certainly the creation of new Bretton Woods-type institutions that are inclined toward the developing world,” Martyn Davies, chief executive officer of Johannesburg-based Frontier Advisory, which provides research on emerging markets, said in a phone interview. “There’s a shift in power from the traditional to the emerging world. There is a lot of geo-political concern about this shift in the western world.”
The BRICS nations, which have combined foreign-currency reserves of $4.4 trillion and account for 43 percent of the world’s population, are seeking greater sway in global finance to match their rising economic power. They have called for an overhaul of management of the World Bank and IMF, which were created in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, in 1944, and oppose the practice of their respective presidents being drawn from the U.S. and Europe.
“We need to change the way business is conducted in the international financial institutions,” South African International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said in a March 15 speech in Johannesburg. “They need to be reformed.”
The U.S. has failed to ratify a 2010 agreement to give more sway to emerging markets at the IMF, while it secured Jim Yong Kim, an American, as head of the World Bank last year over candidates from Nigeria and Colombia.
Finance ministers and central bank governors from the BRICS nations are meeting in Durban to discuss the bank and currency fund, with leaders expected to arrive later.
Goldman Sachs Asset Management Chairman Jim O’Neill coined the BRIC term in 2001 to describe the four emerging powers he estimated would equal the U.S. in joint economic output by 2020. Brazil, Russia, India and China held their first summit four years ago and invited South Africa to join their ranks in December 2010.
Trade within the group surged to $282 billion last year from $27 billion in 2002 and may reach $500 billion by 2015, according to data from Brazil’s government.
“If they announce a BRICS bank it will be quite something,” O’Neill said in an e-mailed reply to questions on March 15. “At a minimum it symbolizes they can achieve something as political group and means lots of other things could follow in the future. It also means that they will have their own kind of special World Bank, which may aid infrastructure and trade projects.”
While BRICS leaders may approve the creation of a development bank in principle at the summit, there’s still disagreement on how it should be funded and operated.
The meeting may fail to reach a detailed agreement this week on how to fund the bank, said Mikhail Margelov, President Vladimir Putin’s envoy to Africa. Russia favors capping each side’s initial contribution at $10 billion, he said in a March 15 interview in Moscow.
“It will be some time before it will be feasible for this bank to start financing say, a railway project,” Simon Freemantle, an analyst at Standard Bank Group Ltd., Africa’s biggest lender, told reporters in Durban. “That is some way out.”
Agreement on pooling foreign-currency reserves to fend against crises is also “some way off,” South African Trade Minister Rob Davies said on March 22.
In October, Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega said the pool will be modeled on the Chiang Mai Initiative, which gives Japan, China, South Korea and 10 southeast Asian nations access to $240 billion of emergency liquidity to shield the region from global financial shocks.
Interest rates near zero in the U.S., Japan and Europe have fueled foreign investors’ appetite for higher-yielding assets, driving up currencies from Brazil to Turkey. Brazil has warned of a global currency war as nations take reciprocal action to weaken their currencies and protect export industries.
Brazil’s real has gained 2 percent against the dollar since the beginning of the year, while South Africa’s rand has dropped 8.8 percent in the period.
For South Africa, which makes up just 2.5 percent of total gross domestic product in BRICS, the summit is a way to showcase its role as an investment gateway to Africa. President Jacob Zuma has invited 15 African heads of state, including Egypt’s Mohamed Mursi and Ethiopia’s Hailemariam Desalegn, for talks with the BRICS leaders at the summit. For most of the BRICS leaders, it’s also the first opportunity to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping after his appointment on March 17.
“We will discuss ways to revive global growth and ensure macroeconomic stability, as well as mechanisms and measures to promote investment in infrastructure and sustainable development,” Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a statement.
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