BRICS bank could change the money game

India recently suggested that it and four other growing economic powers start a jointly run bank.

The BRICS countries - Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa - are increasingly prosperous [GALLO/GETTY]

Moscow, Russia – India’s proposal to set up a bank of the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) will top the agenda at the group’s summit on March 28.

India believes a joint bank would be in line with the growing economic power of the five-nation group. The bank could firm up the BRICS position as a powerful player in global decision-making.

“The BRICS bank does not need much capital for a start,” Alexander Appokin, senior expert at the Moscow-based Centre for Macroeconomic Analysis and Forecasting, said. “What is more important is that the BRICS development bank presents a unique opportunity for indirect investment of central bank foreign reserves inside the countries.”

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A BRICS bank could, for example, issue convertible debt, which would arguably be top-rated and could be bought by central banks of all BRICS countries. BRICS countries would thus have a vessel for investment risk-sharing.

“China will be the biggest beneficiary of that,” says Appokin. “Moreover, infrastructure investment mostly needs not just long-term financing but external monitoring for more transparency and efficiency increases. Here, a BRICS development bank could offer some advice for successful implementation of regional projects.”

But, he cautions, “development structures like a BRICS bank are effective only in case they are given independence in project financing decisions from the governments, or at least room to operate in long-term development framework”.

Yuhua Xiao, assistant professor at the Institute for African Studies in the Zhejiang Normal University (ZNU) in China, says the idea of setting up a development bank for financing projects in these countries is a sign of the growing self-assertiveness and of independence or interdependence of emerging economies.

“As the emerging powers’ approaches to development may differ from established norms, such an institutional set-up will test the possibility of cooperation in a different framework which might generate new ideas,” Yuhua said in an emailed comment.

Free from western influence

India’s proposal for a BRICS bank was long overdue, says John Mashaka, financial analyst at Wells Fargo Capital Markets. “It is a way the emerging nations are trying to pull out of the western-dominated World Bank and the IMF,” he said.

“Basically, India, China and perhaps Russia are trying to show off their economic clout; they are trying to demonstrate to the west that they can do without them. Above all they need freedom from western financial influence.”

Mashaka says the joint bank, besides being a financial institution for BRICS member countries, can also support infrastructure projects in developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. But it has a long way to go, he says.

“The effectiveness of the bank is yet to be seen; this plan is not going to be [a] cakewalk. China has already said it wants permanent presidency. Russia and India may demand the same. We know that Africa is a lucrative market for China in terms of natural resources and as a market for industrial products.

“Africa being such a strategic region, China may want the bank to finance many of its projects in the African region, or simply cooperate with the African Development Bank.”

Mashaka said there were also unanswered questions about capital structure, such as which BRICS member state will foot the bigger bill needed to establish the bank, and the role of each country within it.

Albert Khamatshin from the Centre for Southern African Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences believes South Africa would benefit most, because the primary focus of the bank would be development projects within BRICS nations.

Dr Alexandra A Arkhangelskaya, head of the Centre for Information and International Relations at the Institute for African Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, said a bank like this could shift the weight of economic power, even though the creation of such an institution would be difficult.

“It is a good in terms of a multilateral framework of cooperation,” Arkhangelskaya said. “But the BRICS states have differing economic weight, and to find the right balance to avoid one or some members dominating can pose a challenge. The threat of marginalisation of members in comparison to China is evident.

“BRICS is unity in diversity, and to take new steps towards mutual cooperation can be challenging. Therefore, it is interesting to see the development of this idea and to clearly understand the mechanism of its implementation.”

She further believes the bank could greatly benefit countries outside BRICS if it supports least developed countries in ways similar to the IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa) Development Fund, which has a number of successful ongoing projects.

Professor Adams B Bodomo from the School of Humanities at the University of Hong Kong, who has researched BRICS extensively, said Brazil proposed that developing countries would be willing to contribute money to solve the Eurozone problems, in return for more power in the International Monetary Fund (IMF). But he warned that the “International” Monetary Fund is not really for developing countries. He called it a Western Monetary Fund.

A version of this story was first published by Inter Press Service news agency.

Source: IPS