BRICS Bank could be game-changer
Putin signed the federal law “On ratification of the Treaty establishing the pool contingent of foreign exchange reserves of the BRICS countries.” The federal law was first passed by the State Duma (Lower House) on April 24 after a series of parliamentary deliberations and was finally approved by the Federation Council (Upper House) on April 29, 2015.
The agreement provides for the establishment BRICS pool contingent of foreign exchange reserves in order to provide financial support in the event of the partners of the BRICS facing problems with dollar liquidity in their domestic financial systems. This means that the $100 billion pool will maintain financial stability of the BRICS countries and allow for defenses against market volatility. The fund is meant to shield the BRICS against “short-term liquidity pressures” and promote greater cooperation between the five member countries.
On July 15 last year, in the city of Fortaleza (Brazil), BRICS members (Russia, China, Brazil, India and South Africa) signed an agreement to establish the $100 billion development bank, as well as a $100 billion reserve currency pool. China is set to provide the largest share of $41 billion to the pool, while Russia, Brazil and India will provide $18 billion each. South Africa is set to chip in the remaining $5 billion.
The headquarters are expected to be in China’s Shanghai. The group agreed that India will preside as president on its first year. Russia, meantime, will be the chairman of the representatives.
Professor Georgy Toloraya, an Executive Secretary at the National Committee on BRICS Studies, in an interview with Buziness Africa, notes the significance of BRICS bank as a catalyst to other international financial institutions, and explains further that “the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (АIIB) is a regional bank while the New Development Bank (NDB) is supposed to have a global outreach.”
“The AIIB is technically China-dominated and will center on projects, interesting to China. The New Development Bank (NDB) will have equal representation. Thus, its influence in changing the global financial architecture can be bigger. But competition is a good thing for these two banks as well,” he said.
He also recalls Russia’s suggestion to reform the international financial and economic architecture (including the International Monetary Fund) in the context of new developments in the world economy taking into account the legitimate interests of all the countries in order to create a more representative, stable and predictable system, reduce risks of destabilization of monetary and stock markets related to the massive cross-border movements of capital.
Toloraya points out assertively that an effort should be to create the road map of investment cooperation in the BRICS framework, conclude a multilateral agreement on the encouragement and protection of investments, and to single out areas for intra-BRICS cooperation and to develop cooperation in new technologies.
Contributing to this discussion, Professor David Shinn, Adjunct Professor of International Affairs at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, argues that “the BRICS New Development Bank is not yet functioning and it is not clear how the five original partners will share power. Other countries have been invited to join the bank, which could further alter the decision making process.”
The idea is that the five countries contribute a total of $100 billion for an initial capitalization pool for the bank. Should some countries contribute more than others, it is safe to assume those countries will have more leverage than those who put in lesser amounts, the former U.S. Ambassador and now professor argues, adding that “the devil is always in the detail.”
It is also important to remember that the bank is the first tangible result of the BRICS, five countries that have only one thing in common: at the time they joined BRICS they were the largest economies in their geographical regions. The Nigerian economy has now surpassed South Africa’s economy, so even this commonality is in question, Prof Shinn says.
“I don’t really see the BRICS New Development Bank as operating in competition with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. There is much to be done in the developing world generally and Africa specifically that will accommodate both banks in addition to the contributions of the World Bank and African Development Bank. So long as the BRICS bank is run competently and follows international standards, I expect it will make a positive contribution. But first it has to open its doors and start making loans,” concluded Prof Shinn, who offers consultancy to the U.S. Government on the Horn of Africa and Sino-African relations and served previously as ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso.
Undoubtedly, South Africa is a minority contributor to the total currency reserve pool (contingent reserve arrangement - CRA) but an equal contributor to the New Development Bank (NDB or BRICS Bank). With the CRA, the funds committed remain in possession of South Africa.
“The rhetoric is that South Africa’s voice in BRICS financial matters is not going to be compromised, despite being a minority contributor to the CRA, yet South Africa has been shut down in BRICS negotiation processes before and there is a strong tendency for this arrangement as well as the NDB, which will be headquartered in Shanghai, to be driven by China,” says Hannah Edinger, a Director at Frontier Advisory (a research, strategy and investment advisory firm that assists clients to improve their competitiveness in emerging market economies) headquartered in South Africa.
Similarly, Edinger further explains, the AIIB is China’s brainchild and one more initiative to give China a greater leadership voice in the region, given that reform of existing institutions such as the World Bank and broadly speaking global governance has been slow and not that reflective of China’s economic rise.
“While focus of both the NDB and the AIIB will be on infrastructure project financing, I don’t think these two banks will necessarily go head to head in terms of competition. Even with the existing Asian Development Bank (ADB) in the region, there is room for co-financing of projects, given that in Asia the infrastructure funding gap is multiple trillions of dollars.”
Underlining the high relevance of these two banks, Edinger told me that “in fact, India’s infrastructure deficit alone is already in the multiple trillions of dollars…. Current lending institutions in the regions are unlikely to fill this gap, and even when the NDB and the AIIB are at full lending capacity they might still not plug the deficit. Also, the NDB’s mandate will not only focus on Asia, but also on Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa. I think the challenge for both banks will be to find good projects.”
Alex Vines, a Director for the Africa Programme at Chatham House in London, explains that South Africa’s inclusion in the BRICS has been a way for the ANC government to leverage its foreign policy, and position itself within the emerging narrative on South-South cooperation and trade. Their support for the creation of a New Development Bank is a continuation of this, and although only Russia has ratified it so far, the South Africans are in the final stages of ratifications.
The agreement on the New Development Bank that formerly established the bank at the VI BRICS summit in Brazil last year stated that each of the founding members will initially subscribe to an equal number of shares, indicating equal voting rights on those shares. The bank will invest primarily in infrastructure projects in both BRICS and non-BRICS countries, and the establishment of the first regional office in Johannesburg will give access to the African continent where infrastructure development needs are highest.
The establishment of the first regional office in Johannesburg will give a boost to South Africa’s attempts to market itself as the ‘gateway to Africa’, a position it has had difficulty maintaining against emerging regional hubs such as Lagos and Nairobi. The bank will also deepen the political relationship between China and South Africa.
“The NDB is the first tangible outcome from the BRICS organization, but the political relationship between China and South Africa extends outside the organization. China has become South Africa’s main trade partner, and South Africa is China’s largest partner on the African continent,” Vines noted.
Plans for the Asian infrastructure Investment Bank are still in their infancy; the MOU was only signed last October, but it looks like these institutions will complement, rather than compete with, each other.
Vines also said: “the establishment of the NDB was in part a reaction to under-representation in the existing international financial institutions, but it is unlikely that they will become direct competitors. It is estimated that the infrastructure investment requirement developing countries tops $1trillion per year, so there is plenty of room for new players in the marketplace, including the World Bank’s proposed Global Infrastructure Facility.”
In the case of the BRICS bank, Christopher Wood, a Researcher on Economic Diplomacy at the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), also explains that…“China does not actually contribute more. All five countries are contributing $10 billion of callable capital to start with, giving them equal say in the decisions of the banks. Where China does contribute more is in the case of the Contingent Reserve Arrangement, which is a separate agreement that is pool money that the five BRICS can draw on in times of financial crisis. The best way to think about the relationship between the two is that the BRICS New Development Bank is like the World Bank (providing funding for development projects), while the CRA is like the IMF (providing emergency funding in times of crisis).”
In the case of the CRA, South Africa does have a very small voice, but it’s not so important in this type of organization. The only decisions that will be made will be over whether to release funds to a country that requests help, and this would usually be an easy decision to make, based on hard economic evidence, according to Wood.
There are challenges to overcome. Researcher Wood thinks that “the bank’s short term challenges will be logistical, completing basic things like hiring staff, building internal operational procedures, and so on. Once this is completed, two larger challenges will present themselves. First, making a decision on what projects to fund, which will involve answering difficult questions on what type of projects the bank prioritizes, where it most wants to operate, and what role political priorities might play. Second, would be in building relationships with existing funders, like the World Bank and AIIB, to assure the BRICS bank doesn’t have to bear all the risk of the projects it gets involved in.”
On the other hand, Wood does not think China’s position in both the AIIA and BRICS bank indicates it wants to dominate the global space of these institutions, but certainly indicates it wants to play a bigger role. Traditional institutions are still dominated by developed countries and reforms that would give a bigger voice to countries like China have been very slow. In the Asian Development Bank, for example, the US and Japan each have more than twice as much voting power as China. The new institutions represent China’s frustration with the lack of reform and the persistence of a voting structure that doesn’t reflect its growth into a global superpower.
Chris Weafer, a Senior Partner with Macro Advisory, a consultancy advising macro hedge funds and foreign companies looking at investment opportunities in Russia, said in comments published recently that “within this new group, Russia certainly has a role because the country is the world’s biggest energy exporter and, on aggregate, the world’s biggest minerals exporter. Neither China nor India could sustain their current high pace of growth without either direct materials imports from Russia or, indirectly, from the global marketplace.”
He says “that alone justifies a seat at the BRICS table. Beyond that, Russia is already one of the largest consumer markets in the world and is, on a per capita and per household basis, the largest in the emerging market world.”
The idea to set up BRICS bank was first proposed by India and that topped the agenda at the summit of the group in New Delhi in March 2012. India believes a joint bank would be in line with the growing economic power of the five-nation group. The bank could firm up the position of BRICS as a powerful player in global decision-making. India believes that a BRICS bank could, among others, issue convertible debt, which would arguably be top-rated and can be bought by central banks of all BRICS countries. BRICS countries would thus have a vessel for investment risk-sharing.
The BRICS countries collectively represent about 26 percent of the world’s geographic area and are home to 42 percent of the world’s population. The BRICS consumer market is the largest in the world and is growing by $500 billion a year. Since the start of April, Russia has assumed the presidency of the BRICS group, taking over the position from Brazil. The next BRICS summit will take place in Ufa, the capital of Russia’s Volga republic Bashkiria, on July 8-10, 2015.