11 June 2007

The Brics/Bicsam/G5 summit idea takes hold...

The G8 forum of rich countries has limited utility for the developing world.

11 June 2007
The Hindu

Brazil proposes G5 summit

Siddharth Varadarajan

New Delhi: Though largely overshadowed by the brief "pull aside" Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had with U.S. President George W. Bush, the most significant aspect of last week's G8 meetings was the new dialectic that emerged among the five countries which were invited to Germany as "outreach" partners.

Standalone agenda

At a meeting of the five — Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa — Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva took the lead in proposing that the group consider getting together again at a forum other than that of the G8 so that its own meetings are no longer incidental to the meetings and agenda of the eight most industrialised countries.

Welcome proposal

The proposal was welcomed by the other leaders, say Indian officials familiar with the June 7 deliberations of the "outreach," or O-5, in Berlin. China's President Hu Jintao noted that the five countries together accounted for 42 per cent of the world's population and Dr. Singh quoted an old statement of Jawaharlal Nehru that developing countries were partners and not petitioners before the chanceries of the world.

Though an actual decision on what shape future interaction at the summit level should take has been deferred, the five agreed to instruct their Foreign Ministers to meet this fall on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly to "coordinate their positions" on issues of common interest. The idea is not to stop engaging with the G8 but to explore the full range of issues that the G5 can work on itself.


A senior Indian official told The Hindu that even before last week's meetings, at least one leader of the "outreach" privately expressed his reservations to India about the utility of going to Germany to meet the G8 when the five countries had more important business to transact with each other.

What gives the latest initiative by the five countries — known by the acronym BICSAM — added heft is the disarray that was so evident in the G8's ranks at Heiligendamm on issues ranging from climate change to arms control. The United States failed to convince its old ally, Germany, on global warming, while on missile defence, the U.S. delegation was blindsided by Russia's proposal to move American early-warning radars from eastern Europe to Azerbaijan.

Indeed, say Indian officials, the G8's failure underscores the fact that the international system is truly in a state of flux and that no single grouping of countries — even if they are the most powerful ones in economic terms — can presume to have a solution to the world's problems.

Pulling together

While the BICSAM countries all contend with distinct economic and strategic circumstances and sometimes differ from each other on a number of issues, each has realised the importance of pulling together on a number of global problems.

Climate change

On climate change, the five spoke with one voice before the G8, but the plan is to explore the possibility of other common positions on issues ranging from migration, the Doha `development' round of the trade negotiations, and the reform of global institutions such as the U.N., the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to better reflect the realities of today's world.

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