BRICS summit: Emerging economies condemn military threats against Iran, Syria
By Rama Lakshmi,
NEW DELHI — Leaders of five of the world’s fastest-growing economies called Thursday for an end to the rhetoric of military action against Iran and Syria, as they met in India to develop measures to boost mutual trade in their local currencies.
The leaders of the coalition known as BRICS — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — said unilateral sanctions against Iran would affect their trade and economic growth.
“We must avoid political disruptions that create volatilities in global energy markets and affect trade flows,” Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said. “We agreed that a lasting solution to the problems in Syria and Iran can only be found through dialogue.”
Echoing Singh’s concerns, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said she does not “support any embargo policy” and “escalation of pro-violence rhetoric.” She called for “opening a room for compromise solution” on Iran.
The statements come at a time when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is warning of a possible military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. In Syria, a violent government crackdown on an opposition uprising has killed about 9,000 people, according to U.N. estimates.
The BRICS leaders, meeting in a five-star hotel under heavy security, discussed adjusting the balance of the global economic order and decision-making. They signed new trade agreements, made frequent reference to their shared goal of growth, decried the lack of parity in international organizations and called for reforms in the U.N. Security Council.
But analysts say that it is not clear whether the disparate, patchwork coalition of emerging economies — with very little in common apart from their recent economic growth, size and aspirations — can be an effective platform to influence global policies.
The coalition, which represents countries that have more than 41 percent of the world’s population and contribute 20 percent of the global economy, is beset by mutual suspicion and disagreements. And members have not always taken the same stance on international efforts to address uprisings in Libya and Syria.
The term “BRICS” was coined by Goldman Sachs in 2001 to categorize the emerging economies as the drivers of international growth. The group came together formally in 2006 at the initiative of Russia. In 2011, South Africa joined it. In recent years, the BRICS countries have worked at forming common positions to determine the outcome of climate-change talks in Copenhagen. But many analysts say that it is unlikely to be a formidable bloc in international negotiations.
“The BRICS grouping has economic heft, but their political clout is yet to be tested,” said Lalit Mansingh, former Indian ambassador to the United States. “They don’t see eye to eye on many international issues. There is no common cementing principle among them. All the members in the group have problems with China. They have made all the right noises today at the summit, but each country will have to make its own calculations as to how far they can defy the United States.”
The New Delhi BRICS summit, the fourth since 2009, is taking place under the shadow of the euro-zone crisis and the impasse over Iran, which supplies oil to India, China and South Africa.
On Wednesday, Chinese Commerce Minister Chen Deming, in a thinly veiled reference to the United States, said China will not allow domestic laws of a country to get in the way of its trade ties with Iran.
The five leaders signed a pact that they hope will reduce the demand for fully convertible currencies, such as the dollar, for trade among BRICS nations. The agreement will allow credit in local currencies among BRICS export-import banks to boost trade. The internal trade among the BRICS nations, now at $230 billion, is growing at an average of 28 percent a year, and the coalition hopes to increase it to $500 billion by 2015.
“The BRICS group is trying to tie five boats together in the midst of an enormous global economic storm,” said Rajiv Kumar, secretary general of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry. “They are trying to hedge their bets by promoting trade among themselves and creating a fall-back plan in case the dollar-denominated global trade falls apart in the future.”
The group also agreed to work toward setting up a development bank — like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund — that would finance projects in their member countries.
Kumar said he was less optimistic about the potential of such a bank, saying similar efforts by other countries have failed to take off in the past.
More world news coverage: - Syria meetings in Tehran, Baghdad - Chongqing upheaval rivets Chinese - In Cuba, pope calls for more freedom - Read more headlines from around the world