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Best not to ignore growing weight of BRICS

A traffic policeman walks past a signage decoration for BRICS Summit outside the Sheraton Hotel, the venue of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) Summit in Sanya, China's Hainan province, April 13, 2011.


For now, summits of the world's rising powers, such as the one that concluded Thursday on the Chinese island of Hainan, remain a side show. Markets didn't move with the grumpy words the emerged from the meeting, and the Western media gave it little of the attention that it lavishes on gatherings of the world's (for now) dominant economic powers, the G7.

But the BRICS, as the grouping is now known after South Africa joined Brazil, Russia, India and China for this week's summit in the resort city of Sanya, came across Thursday as a willing challenger to the West's long-standing leadership on global political and economic affairs. One day in the not-too-distant future, they'll have the economic heft to back up their different vision of how things should be run.

The summit - the third of its kind and the first to include South Africa - produced the Sanya Declaration, which calls for a new international currency system, one that could see the U.S. dollar replaced as the leading reserve currency. Saying there was a need for more "stability and certainty" in the system, the five emerging powers agreed to establish mutual credit lines in their own national currencies, rather than the dollar.

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The quintet also demanded that developing countries be given more clout at the International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization.

Chinese President Hu Jintao chaired the meeting, which was also attended by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and South African President Jacob Zuma. The five countries collectively account for 40 per cent of the world's population. Their combined economic output accounted for 18 per cent of the global total last year, but that share is growing fast and is expected to pass the G-7's output by 2035.

"The world economy is undergoing profound and complex changes," Mr. Hu said. "The era demands that the BRICS countries strengthen dialogue and co-operation."

The Sanya Declaration also contained a dig at the Western-led air strikes that have aided rebels in Libya seeking to overthrow the regime of Moammar Gadhafi, saying that "the use of force should be avoided."

However, there are likely few other issues the BRICS can agree on right now. Trust is low between the five countries, particularly between Russia and China - who both see themselves as the leader of the new grouping - and China and India, who are longtime rivals with an unresolved and flammable border dispute.

Most notably, China has blocked the efforts of India, Brazil and South Africa to win permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council.

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About the Author
Senior International Correspondent

Mark MacKinnon is currently based in London, where he is The Globe and Mail's Senior International Correspondent. In that posting he has reported on the Syrian refugee crisis, the rise of Islamic State, the war in eastern Ukraine and Scotland's independence referendum.Mark recently spent five years as the newspaper's Beijing correspondent. More

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