BRICS without mortar
By Peter Hauff
Many member governments of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Development and Cooperation, an advanced nations’ club) feel that the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) are a coherent group of countries that share the same view on official development assistance (ODA). Their action seems to follow identical patterns, driven by interests in commodities and export markets and geared to projecting power at the regional and global levels. Nonetheless, the impression of converging policy is misleading, according to a recent study, two independent think tanks – Germany’s Südwind Institute and the European branch of the Ecologic Institute – prepared for the European Parliament.
For a long time, Europeans at most considered Russia an equal player. The scholars point out, however, that Russia has failed to set up the aid agency it pledged to establish back in 2007. They also write that Moscow’s attitude towards former Soviet Republics is marked by the wish to reduce public spending and fear for its geopolitical standing.
Because of Russia’s deep involvement in Central Asia, EU member countries have mostly shied from becoming active in the region. According to the study, however, European policymakers do not consider Armenia, Azerbaijan or Moldavia developing countries since they are addressed in the EU’s neighbourhood policy. The paper does not assess what role demands for democracy and human rights should play in Europe’s relations with Russia, but insists they should matter more in the context of other former Soviet Republics.
New donors with long experience
According to the two institutes, Brazil comes closest to western values. The nation’s influence is growing in South America and Africa. The scholars confirm, however, that Brazil hardly promotes democracy in international development affairs, but rather emphasises national sovereignty. Brazil’s foreign ministry has been running the Agência Brasileira de Cooperação (ABC) since 1987. Originally it served to absorb foreign aid, but in the meantime, it has become a donor agency too (see Elton Hubner in D+C/E+Z 2012/05, p. 214 f.). Brazil wants a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, and its foreign engagement serves this purpose among others, the Südwind and Ecologic experts argue.
India too is a democracy, and equally keen on permanent membership in the Security Council. This country has been involved in technical cooperation with other developing countries for 50 years. Its various facilities, institutions and programmes are organised in a confusing way so far, the scholar note, and hard to understand. The government has pledged to establish an Indian Agency for Partnership in Development (IAPD) this year, and its budget is supposed to amount to $ 11 billion dollars in the next five to seven years.
South Africa is Africa’s biggest economy, but compared with its BRICS allies, it is a lightweight. As the research paper spells out, South Africa’s leaders are promoting regional integration, peace and security in Africa. Their developmental efforts, however, only concern Southern Africa. The lead agency is the Department for International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO). To better coordinate developmental affairs, the government plans to set up a South African Development Partnership Agency (SADPA) this summer, but when D+C/E+Z went to press in late August, that had not happened yet. The Südwind and Ecologic authors do not discuss the fact that President Jacob Zuma tends to emphasise anti-imperialist solidarity rather than democratic principles in Southern Africa (please note article on the SADC Tribunal on p. 318).
In the scholars’ view, the BRICS would be a toothless tiger without China. They state that policy is made in three ministries (finance, foreign affairs and trade), and that there is no separate international development policy. Nonetheless, China is mobilising huge sums. According to the Financial Times, the credits granted in developing countries by the China Development Bank and the governmental Export-Import Bank amounted to $ 110 billion in 2009 and 2010. That is roughly half of the total ODA volume afforded by OECD members in the same time.
Europeans are sceptical about China’s intentions in Africa. That Beijing cooperates with autocratic regimes, for instance in Sudan and Zimbabwe, reinforces such doubts. Only few in the west, however, know what rules and environmental standards the Chinese apply. The ADF, the French government’s international develoment agency, assessed the experience of an oil-related project in Chad with European, African and Chinese partners. The conclusion is that Beijing wanted political stability for Chad and was interested in dialogue. According to the ADF, the west should grasp such opportunities.
The non-governmental London-based organisation Saferworld has published a similar assessment. Its authors argue that China knows it has a lot to learn for other donors’ experience. They see scope for cooperating with the People’s Republic in crisis regions. If Beijing and western powers cooperated, they state, risks to peace and security would be reduced in countries with fragile statehood.
Will the BRICS contribute to overcoming western hegemony and avoiding old mistakes? Ian Scoons of the Institute for Development Studies in Sussex is not optimistic: “The top-down, expert-led stances of past development interventions – from colonialism to the western aid era – are being replicated,” he writes on his blog. “Aid is about power, and sadly in Africa this remains skewed to the outsider, wherever they come from.”
The report prepared for the European Parliament, meanwhile, suggests that MEPs and the European Commission should address the diverging interests of the BRICS by drafting differentiated policies. In the scholars’ view, cooperation with sub-groups of the BRICS look promising – for instance with BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India, China) or IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa. The subgroups, it is argued, are more coherent than the BRICS umbrella itself.
In any case, the paper warns that the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the western-dominated OECD is not the right environment for negotiating with the BRICS. The study was written before the establishment of the new Global Partnership for Effective Development (please note interview with Talaat Abdel-Malek on page 345 ff.), but the authors welcomed the plans. In their eyes, the Global Partnership is a window of opportunity with a geo-political potential to involve new donors and give them scope to contribute to the international agenda according to their preferences and needs.