Has BRICS lived up to expectations?

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Does anyone still care about BRICS? Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa concluded their tenth official summit in Johannesburg on 26 July. The widespread perception is that the group has not failed to live up to the hype that the acronym helped generate. But that is only half true.

Combined first quarter GDP (excluding South Africa) is far greater in dollar terms than Goldman Sachs predicted when they first forecast BRIC growth in 2003 ( after Jim O’Neill, their former head of economic research, who coined the acronym two years earlier). China’s rapid expansion has more than made up for problems elsewhere. And due to the evolution of BRICs exchange rates and prices, their dollar growth has been more impressive than their performance measured in their own currencies. “The BRICS friendly and overall situation, with the exception of Russia, is close to what I expected in 2001,” Mr O’Neill said in a recent interview.

Another thing that has become Topsy is the bloc’s agenda. The first official summit in 2009, held in Yekaterinburg, Russia, produced a brief declaration containing 15 recognized commitments, according to the BRICS Research Group, based at the University of Toronto and the Academy of Economics National and Public Administration of Russia. Eight years later, when the leaders met in Xiamen, China, the declaration stretched to 71 numbered paragraphs filled with 125 separate commitments. The statement published in Johannesburg is even worse: 102 paragraphs containing a number of commitments that have not yet been accounted for. They cover everything from settling trade disputes and consolidating Syria to making more movies together.

Have any of these promises been kept? It’s easy to assume they’re barely read, let alone accomplished. But they are not quite so empty, according to a study by the BRICS Research Group. Before each summit, he checks whether members have kept up with the main commitments they made the previous year. I uploaded their scores for seven summits, from 2011, when South Africa joined the official group, to 2017. They show a surprisingly high compliance rate: 77% on average. China keeps its biggest word; South Africa least (in part because it did not contribute much to the group’s various commitments regarding Iraq and Afghanistan). The BRICS overall compliance rate is very similar to the G7 rate over the same period. And that was before this year’s G7 standoff in Charlevoix, Canada (a meeting dubbed the G6+1 summit by some critics of America’s unilateralism). Acronymy is better than acrimony.

Correction (August 1, 2018): An earlier version of this piece referred to the BRICS Information Center at the University of Toronto when it should have referred to the BRICS Research Group at the University of Toronto and the Russian Presidential Academy for National Economy and Public Administration.

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