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Tuesday, July 15, 2014, 09:42

BRICS must go for a 'Rio Consensus'

By Kevin P. Gallagher (China Daily)

Conveniently scheduled at the end of the World Cup, the sixth BRICS summit presents the leaders of five emerging economies a truly historic opportunity, not least because it is likely to see the establishment of a new development bank and reserve currency pool arrangement.

This move could strike a true trifecta - recharge global economic governance and the prospects for development, as well as pressure the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to get back on the right track.

The two Bretton Woods institutions, both headquartered in Washington, originally and with good reason put financial stability, employment and development as their core missions. That focus, however, became derailed in the last quarter of the 20th century. During the 1980s and 1990s, the World Bank and the IMF pushed the "Washington Consensus", which offered countries financing but conditioned it on a doctrine of deregulation.

With the benefit of hindsight, the era of the Washington Consensus is seen as a painful one. It inflicted significant economic and political damage on the developing world. Worse, the operations of the World Bank and the IMF are perceived as rigged against emerging and developing economies. The unwritten rule that the head of the IMF is always a European and the World Bank chief always an American is only a superficial but no less grating public expression of that.

Worse still is the fact that the voting structure of both institutions is skewed toward industrialized countries - and grants the United States veto power to boot. It wasn't always that way. As Eric Helleiner shows in one of his two new books, Forgotten Foundations of Bretton Woods: International Development and the Making of the Postwar Order, China, Brazil, India and other countries wanted development goals to remain a core part of the Bretton Woods institutions. Some of their proposals eventually made it into the policy mix of the World Bank and the IMF, including short-term financing, capital controls and policy space for industrial policy.

When these institutions failed to predict the global financial crisis of 2008, however, BRICS and other emerging and developing economies said enough is enough. First, they tried to work inside the system by proposing reforms that would grant them more say in voting procedures, which incidentally US Congress refused to approve even though Washington would have maintained its veto power.

BRICS and other emerging market economies also joined the G20 in the hope of creating a more pluralistic platform for global cooperation. The G20 did hold a landmark meeting in 2009 where a new vision was articulated for global economic governance, but none of the promises - especially the coordination of macroeconomic stimuli to recover from the global financial crisis and comprehensive reform to prevent the next one -were realized.

Now BRICS countries are taking matters into their own hands. Their governments have been diligently putting together two new institutions that hold great promise - a new development bank and a new reserve pooling arrangement. The development bank would provide financing to BRICS and other emerging and developing economies for infrastructure, industrialization and productive development. And the reserve pool would allow BRICS and other economies to draw on pooled reserves in the event of balance of payment crises or threats to their currencies.

If these institutions are announced in Fortaleza this week, BRICS could and should forge a "Rio Consensus" - provided the BRICS member states do not make the same mistakes of other, mostly Western-inspired "models" of the past. The key is to make it a model for global economic governance in the 21st century.

The key elements of a "Rio Consensus" are a definite step in that direction. At its core is a commitment to financial stability and productive development in a manner that is inclusive, honors human rights and is environmentally sustainable.

Organizations carrying out such a mission should also have a more equitable organizational structure with open and transparent rules. This crucially includes the mechanism for picking leaders and a more equal voting system for existing and new members.

Not only will such a framework and structure enable more appropriate financing for development and stability, it can also serve as a moral model of reform that can someday be achieved in the two Washington-based institutions. This will give BRICS more leverage - and an opt-out choice if the industrialized countries stay set in their ways.

The author is a professor of international relations at Boston University.

The Globalist.

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