ANALYSIS: A Brics Plus may bring closer distant areas
BRICS Plus, the proposed expansion of the informal Brics bloc of emerging economies, is likely to initially focus on transport and finance, helping increase continental co-operation and bring countries that are very far apart geographically closer together, experts said on the sidelines of the Valdai Discussion Club session.
Minister of Foreign Affairs of China, Wang Yi said in the spring that China, which holds the presidency of Brics this year, was hoping to expand the club’s reach and scope, establishing the so called Brics Plus, or partnerships with countries involved in regional networks with Brics members: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
The development of regional logistics and finance across the wider geography of Brics will be the primary task of Brivs Plus and its even larger possible extension, dubbed Brics Plus Plus, according to Yaroslav Lissovolik, the chief economist of the Eurasian Development Bank and programme director of the Valdai Club.
“I think the most important sector here is logistics, transport, because you see, the unique nature of Brics is that the countries are on different continents and linking them in terms of roads, railways and so on, is not doable … This concept of Brics Plus, Brics Plus Plus provides a regional dimension and expands the potential cooperation geography of Brics countries and their partners and allows to develop continental integration,” Lissovolik said.
In Russia’s case, according to the expert, it could mean the development of integration with the Eurasian Economic Union, including projects in infrastructure, logistics and transportation corridors.
Another viable variant of interaction for those countries that are separated by great geographical distances mentioned at the session is the development of payment systems.
Lissovolik suggested the “financial sphere, co-operation in the banking sphere… establishment of payment systems, payment cards and the possibility to use national currencies more for payments” as key development possibilities.
According to high commissioner for finance and investment at the Eurasian Economic Co-operation Organisation, Oleg Preksin, one of the most important steps toward deeper integration should be the creation of a joint rating system within Brics countries.
“I would consider the establishment of a joint rating agency of Brics countries, which other countries may join as a sort of a first step, a core,” Preksin said.
The high commissioner added that it would not be easy to develop trade and investments if one had to rely on the so-called big three rating agencies, namely Moody’s, S&P and Fitch, for the evaluation of partners’ risks. Preksin pointed out that the three agencies gave triple A ratings to a number of low quality assets in the past during the previous global crisis, but this was promptly forgotten later.
According to Preksin, the Brics’ own scale would have to be approved by banks and necessary regional structures, adopted by local finance ministries and local central banks.
“Then you may develop that payment system, develop those (payment) cards, develop currencies. It is very important to develop the system of the insurance of investments, and this is the topic for state-private co-operation,” Preksin said.
The high commissioner noted that it would be very difficult to create a corresponding system through private companies due to the high costs.
“State institutions usually assume responsibilities for political risks. This institution for Brics countries is in prospect, but it is important, it will be formed,” Preksin said.
The expert said that the deeper integration on a financial level was already happening, although it was not as visible as the meetings of leaders. “In fact, very important work on forming infrastructure for mutually beneficial partnership is going forward,” Preksin said.
The expert stressed the importance of using open architecture, citing the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank as an example.
The deeper co-operation would go beyond the economic sphere and could help generally improve the standards of living, according to Lissovolik.
The economist said that one of the aspects of Brics countries’ interactions in the Brics Plus format is the interaction among their development banks, which are often orientated toward infrastructure and manufacturing, but are also, increasingly, paying more attention to the development of the “human capital, education, health care, ecology-related projects.”
“I think it is very important that, in these spheres, this kind of format provides an opportunity for Brics countries to play an important role in the promotion of these larger, let’s say, ecological standards, promotion of higher social standards, the development of the human capital. This can be done by our countries based on joint financing, based on the interaction with new structures, such as the Brics New Development Bank,” Lissovolik said.
He said this new dimension was only beginning to gain traction and Brics countries could contribute to the promotion of the new economic integration format within the global economy.
Naturally, bringing regional networks into the fold is not without its risks, and Brics countries have several reservations about this expansion.
“The main worry, I think, is the fact, and it has been voiced repeatedly, that any expansion of the Brics in any way may somehow erode or weaken the interaction impulse among the Brics countries themselves, within this core, may distract their attention, their energy from mutual partnership to something external, enlargement and so on,” Lissovolik said. The economist stressed that he did not see it as a serious threat.
“Obviously, each country that has the presidency of Brics sets out these or other projects or goals, based on its own interests. To understand, how compatible they are, we need details, and there aren’t any at the moment,” Georgy Toloraya, executive director of the Russian National Committee on Brics Research, said.