BRIC stacks up against the IMF

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The BRIC summit in Brazil, representing the four largest developing countries in the world including China, is expected to focus on reform of the International Monetary Fund, climate change and increased cooperation among its members.

The BRIC nations - Brazil, Russia, India and China - are expected to collectively eclipse the world's richest economies by 2050, according to investment firm Goldman Sachs.

"If they are able to coalesce on a common position, that could be quite influential," said Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute and former deputy assistant for international trade and investment policy at the US Treasury.

"The BRIC countries could make a big imprint on the operation of the world system," he said.

Last year the BRIC nations produced 15 percent of the global gross domestic product, with 40 percent of the global population.

Those numbers are expected to rise, and the group believes its increased status warrants higher IMF representation and a bigger say in global financial affairs.

Chinese analysts say BRIC should not be a mere "economic symbol", but should have more meaningful cooperation in other areas such as infrastructure and energy.

Zhou Zhiwei, secretary-general of the center for Brazilian studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the BRIC nations are actually exploring the possibility of pragmatic cooperation, but said there's "a long way to go".

The BRIC countries can benefit from cooperation both economically and diplomatically, according to Zhou.

"These countries should identify their strengths and concentrate on areas in which they are complimentary," he said.

"This reflects a changing international community, in which developing countries wish to participate more in international affairs," he said.

Jiang Yi, a Russian studies expert with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said cooperation among the BRIC nations is still at the "beginning stage".

"Current cooperation is more in economic activities, but not in the area of politics," Jiang said, noting economic issues topped the agenda of the first BRIC summit held in Russia's Yekaterinburg last June.

IMF reform

While last year's BRIC meeting in Russia covered subjects such as the financial crisis, international terrorism, energy security and climate change, it is predicted that IMF reform will be a main focus this year.

Experts are predicting the IMF will ultimately agree to significantly increased BRIC representation, in light of the large loans and a widespread acknowledgment that the global financial crisis was in no small part due to the weaknesses of the existing financial structure.

"There seems to be a willingness and understanding in the IMF that they have to give more representation," said John Williamson, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute and former adviser to the IMF.

"China especially should expect big advances," he said.

Edwin Truman, former assistant secretary of the US Treasury for international affairs, said the meeting between BRIC representatives and the US treasury secretary at last year's G20 finance meeting in London was an indication of change.

"That's a recognition by the US government that these are important countries and that both collectively and individually, they have a voice in the world."

Truman believes that BRIC nations can expect increased representation, but cited divergent interests and a loosely defined agenda as potential hurdles in the alliance.

Currently, the BRIC countries have stronger investment and trade relationships with other countries, Hufbauer said, and bilateral trade disagreements could arise in the future.

Other experts argue that Russia and Brazil have only been grouped together as a result of the 2001 Goldman Sachs report that coined the term BRIC.

"Because of their size, it's very clear that the BRIC countries will become increasingly important to the world," Truman said. "But whether they remake the international financial architecture will more likely be evolutionary, rather than revolutionary."

Hufbauer predicted that the group would become stronger in the coming years.

"If BRIC finds a cohesive position and stays focused as a group, it has the nascent capability to be a counterweight to the G7," he said.

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