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BRICS Nation Leaders to Hold Summit in India

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev (L) shakes hands with his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao during their bilateral meeting in New Delhi, March 28, 2012.
Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev (L) shakes hands with his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao during their bilateral meeting in New Delhi, March 28, 2012.
Kurt Achin

Leaders from some of the world's largest developing economies are arriving in India for a summit. The BRICS countries - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - are very different but share some common development goals. The leaders are preparing for Thursday's group meetings and sideline bilaterals that will cover topics ranging from global security to increased financial cooperation.

An editorial in the International Herald Tribune this week derided the diverse group of nations as “an artificial bloc built on a catchphrase.”  The term "BRIC” was coined by the investment bank Goldman Sachs in a 2001 research report. The four BRIC countries later formed a political organization, which expanded in 2010 to include South Africa, hence the updated name - BRICS.

Indian Foreign Ministry official Sudhir Vyas says the group has a common interest in economic cooperation.

"Intra-BRICS trade is growing at an average rate of 28 percent annually and currently stands at about $230 billion, and there is a strong growing middle class with rising levels of income," said Vyas. "The BRICS countries, therefore, today present an opportunity as new growth poles in a multi-polar world."

The BRICS nations represent 40 percent of the world's population. John Kirton, co-director of the BRICS Research Group at the University of Toronto, says the BRICS nations are united not only by their emerging economic strength, but also by shared vulnerability.

"They are of global significance and they know it," said Kirton. "They have a sense of global responsibility and that is their common bond, but they all have a very imminent memory of being very poor and the challenges of development."

Kirton says a key item on the agenda for the summit will be the eventual creation of a BRICS development bank, to provide mutual credit and investment opportunities for member nations without having to depend on Western institutions.

"I mean, not born here, right in Delhi, but there will be a pretty clear road map, probably with a timetable, so that within a year or so, we will have it," he said. "We can't really see a full blown design until some of the technical problems are worked out."

Foreign assistance by BRICS nations has sharply increased over the last five years, in line with the countries' growing wealth. Brad Tytel, a vice president at Global Health Strategies, an international consulting company, says the way BRICS nations deal with public health issues like AIDS and tuberculosis can set a positive template for the rest of the world.

"The fact that these countries are dealing with these issues right now, gives them a lot of direct influence on how other countries are addressing them, how quickly they can take up new tools and technologies, and renewed programs and policies that they may seek to implement.  It's the potential that's really important," said Tytel. "I mean, the BRICS countries have huge potential to be a really transformative force in global health."

In preparation for Thursday's summit, Indian police have taken dozens of Tibetan exile activists into protective custody. Earlier this week, a 27-year-old Tibetan self-immolated to protest the arrival of Chinese President Hu Jintao. He died of his injuries.  

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