International politics stand between Turkey and the BRICS

President Gül is seen with his Brazilian counterpart, Roussef, during a visit by the former to Ankara in October 2011. (PHOTO ALİ ÜNAL)

April 08, 2012, Sunday/ 13:18:00

The Turkish economy is experiencing rapid growth, which many thought would result in an invitation to join the world’s top emerging markets in an exclusive club. That invitation has not surfaced.

The Turkish economy grew by 8.5 percent in 2011, and 8.9 percent in 2010. These figures place Turkey before all other European Union and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries in terms of economic growth in the last two years, noted Ali Babacan, deputy prime minister responsible for the economy, on April 2. But it was South Africa, and not Turkey, which was invited to become a member of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries. BRIC is an acronym coined 10 years ago by Jim O’Neill, a Goldman Sachs executive, to stand for top emerging markets in the world economy. The BRICs, which O’Neill now prefers to call “growth markets” to distinguish them from the lesser, emerging markets, are believed to increasingly dominate the world economy.

The BRICs, which O’Neill now prefers to call “growth markets” to distinguish them from the lesser, emerging markets, are believed to increasingly dominate the world economy. In fact, they will become the strongest economies by the year 2050, O’Neill claims. The prediction is not baseless, given that their gross domestic product (GDP) has increased from $3 trillion to $13.5 trillion over the past 10 years.

So, as an emerging economy with political weight, having enjoyed an annual average GDP growth of 5.4 percent in the last 10 years, Turkey was considered by some as a more probable candidate for joining the BRICs club. Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum, proposed several years ago that Turkey, with its rapidly increasing competitiveness, should also be included in the BRIC group, which would make the acronym T-BRIC. But with the admission of South Africa into the pack in 2011, the acronym, composed of the initials of each country, is now BRICS.

It seems economics is not the only criterion for invitation to the BRICS club according to some analysts, who believe international politics is also involved. According to Dr. Süleyman Yaşar, a professor of economics at İstanbul University, and a columnist for the Sabah daily, Turkey was expected to be admitted into the group before South Africa, a smaller economy in which the rate of unemployment is over 20 percent. But, Yaşar noted in an interview with Sunday’s Zaman, none of the BRIC countries are NATO members, while Turkey is, and in addition to being tied to Europe by the Customs Union, the country is also a close ally of the US in the region.

“It’s precisely these facts that seem to be the hurdles for Turkey’s admittance into the BRICS,” he commented.

The argument looks solid. Turkey’s GDP was $772.2 billion for 2011, and $731 billion in 2010, while that of South Africa was close to $430 billion last year, and $364 billion a year earlier. Turkey is the 17th and South Africa the 27th largest economy in the world. And as per the analysis of an economist at the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV), Esen Çağlar, Turkey could jump to 13th place among the world economies if it could just succeed in making more use of women labor and increase labor productivity by 33 percent. The BRICs didn’t choose to invite South Korea and Mexico either, two giants among the emerging markets with bright economic prospects, with South Korea being a close ally of the US, and Mexico tied to the US through NAFTA.

It’s telling that none of the BRICS countries, which together account for a quarter of the world GDP, are in close association with the “present-day rulers” of the world. In fact, at the fourth BRICS summit in India on March 29, where heads of state got together, the BRICS not only blamed the West for the financial mess the world is in, and called for reforms in the international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the United Nations Security Council, but also stressed that dialogue was the only means to resolve the crisis in Syria and Iran. So, it’s clear the BRICS political stance is not in accord with that of the West, and it is the West with which Turkey chooses, generally, to act alongside.

Ali Rıza Sandalcılar, assistant professor of economics at Recep Tayyip Erdoğan University in Rize, is also of the opinion that a political choice is involved. “It’s the general perception that BRICS is equal to economic performance, but in fact it is not the case,” he told Sunday’s Zaman. “At the very start, perhaps the consideration was purely economic, but now the steps taken by the BRICS also have political motives to them.”

Turkey’s dilemma regarding the BRICS is perhaps best described by Professor Birol Akgün, coordinator of international relations at the Institute of Strategic Thinking. “Although Turkey aims to drive a change in some of the leading international institutions, such as the IMF, to secure a better representation for developing countries, and share similar interests with the BRICS countries,” said Akgün, “it is well integrated into the major institutions of the Western world.” For this very reason, Akgün believes, it is not all that easy for Turkey to become a part of the BRICS. “Turkey could be involved for the moment with the BRICS in a consultative capacity, but doesn’t need to be part of it,” he told Sunday’s Zaman.

Turkey is perceived to be part of the hegemonic system of the West, and when you make a move to pull Turkey to your side, you would, at the same time, be shaking the global power balance. Noting that China’s motto is harmony and development, “China wouldn’t like to disturb anybody by inviting Turkey into BRIC,” Akgün said.

The five countries of the BRICS represent 45 percent of the world’s population, a quarter of its land mass and a quarter of its economy. Between 2008 and 2010 the BRIC countries, which have weathered the financial crisis much better than the developed world, have, with their GDP, contributed 50 percent of the global economic growth. The BRICS are looking to raise trade between them from $230 billion to $500 billion by 2015, and indications strongly back the claim that the BRICs are the future of the world economy as developed countries slow down because of the economic crisis.

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