21 days ago

Bangladesh in perspective of BRICS' expansion

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It is only natural that opposing camps would lock in a heated debate over the ramification of non-induction of Bangladesh into the BRICS club. When Ethiopia and Argentina have received the green card as part of expansion of this bloc set up mainly to serve the development of member countries with particular emphasis on eco-friendly projects and sustainable growth, Bangladesh's qualification for the multilateral platform is beyond question. Originally the acronym of the group set up in 2009 was BRIC with the first letters of the four emerging economies ---Brazil, Russia, India and China.  With the joining of South Africa in 2011, the number of founding members was five of the rechristened BRICS. 

Now, about the invitation to Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE) for joining the forum, any complaint can hardly be raised. After all, if the founding members are top emerging economies, the four Middle-eastern countries are known for their strong financial backbones. Egypt cannot be considered in the same league but this African nation with close affinity with the Arab world ranked higher at economic complexity index (ECI) at 58 to Bangladesh's 101. 

Here the primacy of emerging 'economies' rather than countries or nations is quite significant. The political overtone of the 15th BRICS summit at Johannesburg, South Africa could not be missed but was there the intent and purpose of forming this platform ever strategically political with an undercurrent of military might? Had it been the case, China and India with antagonistic relations between them would never have found a meeting point to form this economic partnership. Indeed, economic development and sustainability mark the development parameter of today's world. So, there is nothing to be surprised if the primary concern of the bloc is pooling a common fund to push ahead their development agenda in an eco-friendly and sustainable manner with due concern for climate change. 

In this regard, the European Union (EU), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) may have provided the inspiration behind forming this platform for advancing the socio-economic causes of the countries concerned. With 40 per cent of the global population and 20 per cent GDP respectively, even the five-member forum was a formidable force. Its current expansion will catapult it to an even higher plane. The prediction is that China's economy will overtake that of the US by, according to Goldman Sachs, 2040. Others predict it will happen even earlier. The global asset manager further predicts that India would do so to become the world's second largest economy by 2075. So the economic issues were the prime concerns. 

Naturally, the members decided to set up a bank called New Development Bank (NDB). An agreement to this effect was signed at the sixth BRICS summit held in Fortaleza, Brazil. The inaugural meeting of the NDB board of governors was held in 2015. The bank received its first installment of the paid-in capital from its founding members. Thus the bank started its operation with an authorised capital of US$100 billion which is divided into 1.0 million shares having a par value of 100,000 dollars each. With an initial subscription of 500,000 shares worth US$ 50 billion, the founding members contributed to the fund. 

Bangladesh may not be a member of the bloc but it is one of the three early members of the NDB. The other two economies are Egypt and the UAE. Bangladesh's subscription to the initial capital was $942 million less than Egypt's $1,196 million but more than the UAE's $556 million. Membership of this new multilateral lender is open to the UN member countries. Clearly, its strategic vision concerned more economic issues than political ones. Of course, the subtle challenge it posed to the world's dominant currency dollar could be seen as an indirect political manoevure. But it was inevitable. 

At the time of its formation there was not the slightest idea of a Russia-Ukraine war and the subsequent hike in fuel price followed by dollar crisis that together stymied industrial production, trade and commerce and also triggered atrocious and unpredictable market volatility or inflation. Although the bank has been in operation for seven years in its founding member countries financing 96 projects at a cost of $33 billion, the bank made its presence felt in Bangladesh only in March this year when it planned to lend $235 million for a water supply system project in Dhaka and expressed its desire to lend at least $1.0 billion a year.      

If and when this happens, Bangladesh may feel compensated for the rebuff it received at the recently held BRICS summit. But what about the fundamental character of the BRICS. Will it change or stay put where it was? Clearly, China and Russia were keen on BRICS' expansion because that serves their purpose to counter the influences of the US and Europe. One facing sanctions over its attack against Ukraine and the other's rise in economic and military statures posing a challenge to the US supremacy cannot be acceptable to both US and its allies in Europe and Japan. But Brazil, India and South Africa have no such ambition nor does the second dominant member in the fold like any change in the charters. So India, a member of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD), has insisted on deciding the principles and guidelines before any move to expand the forum. Most likely a compromise was reached where Bangladesh's case did not figure prominently. There is nothing to be disappointed, though, because the country would be better off if left out of big power tussles. 

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