Ten years ago, the investment bank Goldman Sachs coined the acronym BRIC (which stands for Brazil, Russia, India, China) and made a convincing case for a new trading block and a new geopolitical and diplomatic club capable of rivalling the West in the global market. But it was not until 2008 that the countries concerned took up the idea seriously and met to discuss its attractiveness for a reconfiguration of international power relations and maybe its potential for creating a new world order. In 2009, the BRIC countries held their first summit at Yekaterinburg (Russia), followed by annual summits in Brasilia (Brazil) in 2010, Sanya (China) in 2011 and New Delhi (India) in 2012. This year, South Africa, the latest recruit to this exclusive club, is proud to host the fifth annual summit of the BRICS in Durban on 26 and 27 March 2013.
Although South Africa (the ‘S’ in BRICS) is, to all intents and purposes, the most advanced country in Africa, it is actually dwarfed alongside giants such as Brazil, Russia, India and China. However, it was at the instigation of China in 2011 that South Africa was eventually admitted into this new geopolitical entity and the group formerly called BRIC officially became BRICS. In 2010, South Africa was invited as a guest to the Brasilia summit.
Like the initial four BRIC countries, other countries could arguably have been invited to join in – they are relatively big in both land areas and population sizes and are characterised by high economic growth rates. But China has long seen the huge potential of Africa as a whole and it views South Africa as a gateway to the African continent.
BRICS have massive internal markets with growing and sizeable middle classes. Collectively, they have over 41% of the world’s population. Their combined land area represents more than 25% of the surface of the Earth – much of it undeveloped. They possess nearly 50% of the world’s foreign exchange and gold reserves. And they account for almost a quarter of global GDP. Their economies have been growing faster than those of Western industrialised nations. It is interesting to look at how the first four BRICS countries compare with Euro-27 in terms of these key criteria to see their combined power and influence. See, for instance:
HYPERLINK « http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_STAT-12-80_en.htm?locale=en »http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_STAT-12-80_en.htm?locale=en
Shared Vision
In the realm of international trade, the BRICS’ main concern is to break up the monopoly of the West and push for them to have a voice in the way commercial relations are conducted in the era of globalisation. It is worth noting that the BRICS group does not represent an economic club only: they are also a political entity, albeit a loose – and an inherently fragile – one. At each annual summit, this political (and diplomatic) dimension is made clear. Thus in 2011, the theme was “Broad Vision, Shared Prosperity”, itself based under the following stated vision: “The 21st century should be marked by peace, harmony, cooperation and scientific development.” In 2012, it was “BRICS Partnership for Global Stability, Security and Prosperity”. And this year, it is “BRICS and Africa – Partnership for Integration and Industrialization.” The key words are there. The shared vision leaves no doubt as to the intentions of the BRICS strategists.
The establishment of G20 was a first victory for BRICS as they made their way into the club of the richest nations, the former G7 (which had in fact become the G8 since Russia, as heir to the old USSR, was already admitted into this group).
BRICS have also increased trade flows between them. For example, Russia is a major supplier of energy sources, raw materials and arms to China.  The recent visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Russia resulted in a major breakthrough deal between the two countries:  China has been given a share of Arctic exploration licenses and this shows how the world’s largest oil and gas producer and the biggest energy consumer are redrawing the global energy map. China has also become the first trading partner of Brazil, supplanting the US in the Number 1 position and it could soon become the second trading partner of Latin America, ahead of the European Union.
Ideally, the BRICS giants would have liked to restrict their reliance upon or even bypass the US dollar in their commercial dealings. Currently, the 5-Rs as someone calls them because of their currencies – the Real, Ruble, Rupee, Renminbi, Rand – and in particular China have decided to accept the Euro as a substitute to the dollar. They have also moved to support the European currency by buying up European debt.  As one economist, Zhang Monan, puts it: « L’achat de dette souveraine européenne par la Chine et les autres pays des BRICS représente une sorte de soutien à l’euro [qui] devrait aider à briser la domination du dollar sur le système monétaire international. C’est un pas de plus vers l’instauration d’un système monétaire international multipolaire. » In Durban, the BRICS countries will discuss the feasibility of setting up a Development Bank as an alternative to the World Bank. However, even if they succeed in creating such a common bank, it will take years before it will be in a position to offer long-term loans etc.
Cynics have called BRICS an “acronym with no substance”. However, it would be foolish to dismiss outright such a powerful grouping of giant emerging economies. In the foreseeable future the success or failure of BRICS will depend very much on whether they are able to build upon their strengths (see above) and seize the many opportunities that are and will become available to them  (effective South-South partnerships and integration; better terms of trade and massive exports of affordable and better quality products to countries in the North…) and overcome their weaknesses (different political systems, economies and cultures; latent rivalries, eg between India and China…) and the threats that they may face (potential conflicts between them; emergence of new power blocks…). Goldman Sachs is already thinking ahead, about the “Next Eleven”! The “N-11” ‘growth markets’ are, in alphabetical order, Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Korea, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Turkey and Vietnam.  Who says international relations are boring…?