At their annual summit last week, leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa said that their New Development Bank is getting ready to lend after years of haggling. Each country will have an equal vote in the infrastructure projects that the institution finances. The bank, with a $100 billion lending pool to start, might never be a major rival to the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank. But plans for intercountry cooperation on projects, combined with the fast ascent of the Beijing-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank–it has 57 founding members, including many developed countries–underscores a financial and geopolitical shift away from the lending hegemony of Europe and the U.S.
It remains to be seen how representatives of the five emerging economies share power and choose projects. China and India are relatively healthy economically, but have a long list of technology, energy, and other infrastructure needs. Brazil, Russia, and South Africa are slogging through the bottom of a bad commodities cycle, and have their own project lists. It took a lot of debate before the Brics decided that China, with its hefty reserves, wouldn’t control the reins. But the bank is based in that country, which will contribute $41 billion to the lending pool. Brazil, India, and Russia will each provide $18 billion and South Africa, $5 billion.
The New Development Bank’s first president is an Indian banker, Kundapur Vaman Kamath. He most recently was the nonexecutive board chairman of ICICI Bank (ticker: IBN) and Infosys (INFY). Kamath told an Indian news service that the bank is likely to approve its first loan by April 2016. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi reportedly suggested that the bank’s first major project should be in clean energy. Some non-Brics are closely watching the new bank. Venezuela wants in, and Greece–no surprise–is interested.
Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov is already in line. He suggested that Russian oil producer Rosneft (OJSCY) could qualify for financing. But will the Brics bank choose a company stymied financially by Western sanctions after Russia’s unpopular Crimea land grab? Not likely.
While the bank is viewed as an alternative to the IMF and World Bank, Kamath and others emphasized there is room for multiple global lenders, given the vast need for infrastructure improvement in developing markets.
Indeed, the Brics bank will struggle initially to offer what Bruce Jones, director of the foreign policy program at the Brookings Institution, calls the “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.” IMF approval of a project often draws in private investors, lenders, and other multilateral partners.
The Brics bank is a “storm in a teacup,” Jones says. “The original sin was the unwillingness in the West to include the Brics in the G-7 in the mid-2000s when we controlled the terms of the game.”