In the Shadow of the Pandemic: The 20th Anniversary of BRICs

A guest blog written by Surrey Business School’s Dr Saori Sugeno, ahead of the Doing Business in Emerging Markets webinar on Wednesday 3 November.

The last two years have been extraordinary and will be remembered many decades from now. This is true not only in reference to the pandemic, but also because these two years cast doubt on some of our achievements, such as globalization, liberty to travel and trade, and the increased speed of modern life.  They also showed that the “one world” paradigm was, regretfully, still a dream rather than reality. It took too long to find a solution to vaccinate and protect populations in both and advanced and poorer economies.

On the whole, this extraordinary time brought to full life our technological advantages. The internet became an indispensable part of our professional and private lives. Whether we like it or not, virtual communications are here to stay and, screen fatigue aside, will bring relief to fund managers and other global professionals, many of whom have lived out of airports most of their careers.

As we focus on the pandemic, which is still far from over, we naturally take a day-by-day, step-by-step, living-in-the-moment approach. Unfortunately, we run the risk of losing broader perspectives. For instance, many have forgotten that this year was the twentieth anniversary of the acronym BRICs, coined by Lord O’Neill, former chief economist at Goldman Sachs Asset Management.

The BRICs—Brazil, Russia, India, and China—were supposed to become an engine of the world economy in the years after the term was created. This prediction has proved correct, at least for most members of this group. China, though controversial in economic and political terms and with policies not always aligned to the democratic values of the West, is one of the pillars of the global economy. India is on the course to compete with China. Russia, with a much smaller population and many years in the shadows after the collapse of the Soviet Union, proved that it retained its ability to provide the world with high-quality frontier research by successfully producing the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine. Brazil was badly struck by the pandemic, but so was the United States. Thus, when analysing the coronavirus’s powerful impact, we cannot blame only Brazil’s economic disadvantages. We need to address both countries’ political and policy errors related to handling the pandemic.

Twenty years of using the BRICs acronym have taught us that unleashing a country’s full economic potential is not a straightforward path, but it is relatively steady, usually supported by a vast population and growing productivity. These two things are the key factors in the vector of economic development. It is important to continue finding ways to proceed along this vector, not to reject it. Developed countries must shift from a mentor role to seeing each other as equals, understanding, foreseeing, and preparing for the inevitable arrival of co-competition. Advanced economies will need to simultaneously cooperate and compete with emerging economies, not only in “brick and mortar” fields, but also in more sophisticated areas such as quantum computing and biomedicine.

To paraphrase the conclusion of Jim O’Neill’s famous “Building Better Economic BRICs”, published in November 2001, it was previously “time for better global economic BRICs”. Now, it is time for a better understanding of global economic BRICS as we gear up to cooperate with them.

With this belief in mind, we at Surrey Business School are starting a new webinar series, “Doing Business in Emerging Markets”. The goal of this series is to deepen our understanding of emerging markets, working with remarkable speakers to help our audience use this understanding to develop winning strategies for emerging markets.

Register for the event: