BRICS in the G-20 wall

The recent reversals of economic fortunes could bring emerging economies and the G-20 closer.

Andrew F. Cooper

Big emerging countries, as featured by the behaviour of the BRICS, have maintained an ambiguous relationship with summits at the hub of global governance. Although Goldman Sachs can be credited with the "BRICS" coinage over a decade ago, the consolidation of new habits of working together by the most prominent emerging countries came about through the so-called outreach process vis--vis the G-7/8 between 2005 and 2009. This mechanism opened up opportunities in terms of cooperation, but it also led to frustration about equality of standing. As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stated at the 2007 Heiligendamm summit: "We have come here not as petitioners but as partners in an equitable, just and fair management of the global community of nations, which we accept as reality in the globalised world".

The creation of the G-20 in 2008 amid the "made in the US" financial crisis enhanced confidence about the recognition of the global shift in economic power, marked by multi-polarity and a deepening systemic interdependence. Unlike other fora of global governance, the G-20 at the leaders' level was based on formal equality of membership in terms of collective problem-solving.

Yet, in terms of practice, the big emerging countries retained a low-key, wait-and-see attitude to the G-20. Preferring to keep their options open, they sought parallel fora of activity to balance their involvement with the old establishment notably via the gradual institutionalisation of the BRICS summit (India, China, Brazil along with Russia, plus South Africa added in 2011) that allowed both voice opportunities and selected forms of collective action.

The hedging function is magnified by the fact that until 2013, there has been only an indirect institutional connection between the G-20 and the BRICS, with no explicit mention of the BRICS by the G-20. The distinctive feature has been the positioning of a BRICS caucus on the edge of the G-20. BRICS leaders consulted together in Cannes before the 2011 G-20 summit, amid speculation that there would be a BRICS bailout fund for peripheral European nations. This was continued in 2012 at Los Cabos, Mexico, with BRICS leaders issuing a statement that addressed most of the key issues at the G-20 summit, with a focus on the euro crisis.

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