One look at the wholly pedestrian Action Plan and any illusion of substantive intent would be quickly dispelled. It reads like trivial pursuits and should have been billed as a tentative calendar of prospective meetings and events rather than be given the status of an Action Plan.
The declaration bears the clear imprint of China and to a certain extent Russia on some key economic and political issues. The most notable example of this is the thinly veiled but unusually harsh criticism of the US-sponsored Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is seen as mainly directed against China.
Unless India has been told it will have no place in the partnership why close our options? The Declaration obliquely criticises the US for causing excessive dollar liquidity. China is concerned because this reduces the value of its massive dollar assets and triggers hot money inflows. Brazil, too, has suffered as a result.
But India would prefer that stimulus measures in the US continue so that export demand for its goods and services is not threatened. Despite the risks, India appears eager to receive "hot" money flows at a time when investment levels are depressed.
Political positions articulated in the declaration are on the expected lines but the language is reflective of the stronger stance taken by Russia and China both on intervention in Syria and the imposition of sanctions on Iran. In Western capitals these formulations will be seen as endorsement of the Chinese and Russian positions, despite the fact that India, Brazil and South Africa have a more nuanced posture.
On the UN reform, the Declaration adopts the well-known Chinese position of offering support to the aspirations of Brazil, India and South Africa 'to play a greater role in the UN', without endorsing their candidature for permanent membership of the Security Council. Russia, which had formally supported India's candidature, has now aligned itself with China.
Two agreements were concluded among the Exim Banks of the five countries during the Summit. The 'Master Agreement in Extending Credit Facility' in local currencies is to implement an essentially generalised currency swap arrangement among the participating countries. The second is the 'BRICS Multilateral Letter of Credit Confirmation Facility Agreement', which too is a trade facilitation measure. Once implemented it is likely to reduce transaction costs of intra-BRICS trade. The BRICS Business Forum, which met on the eve of the Summit, recommended a target of $500 billion of intra-BRICS trade by 2015 compared to $230 billion currently. The issue of liberalising business visas was flagged but with no commitments.
There was strong anticipation that the summit would announce the setting up of a BRICS development bank on the lines of the World Bank but focused on financing projects in BRICS and other developing countries. However, caution seems to have won the day. An initiative that would have been seen as a major contribution by emerging economies in promoting growth and recovery in their own and other developing countries, strengthening their hands in pushing for reform of international financial institutions, and marking the grouping as a serious and authoritative player on the global stage, was instead consigned to a committee.
BRICS is here to stay as a familiar feature on the international landscape. It has the economic and political heft to play an influential role provided it is able to act together on key issues. In that sense, the Delhi Summit remained mostly a flag-waving exercise. In the foreseeable future, the most realistic prospect for BRIC countries may be their working as a coalition on issues of common interest such as reforming international financial institutions, resisting protectionism and promoting development in developing countries.
There is no doubt that being part of this group gives each member that little extra room for manoeuvre vis-à-vis the established advanced countries. India and China working together in BRICS might also mitigate the elements of confrontation between them. (IPS)
Shyam Saran is former Indian Foreign Secretary and ambassador to Nepal. He is currently the chairman of Research and Information Systems for Developing Countries (RIS) think-tank and senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) in New Delhi.
"BRICS is not anti-western"