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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - RIYADH: A new global economic playing field is set to be created with the expansion of the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa bloc of countries, business leaders suggested during panels at the Future Investment Initiative forum in Riyadh.
Known as BRICS, the group announced in August it plans to double its membership next year, a move that will open the door for Saudi Arabia, Iran, Ethiopia, Egypt, Argentina and the UAE, and could redefine the global economic and political landscape.
Several sessions at the FII focused on the rising power of BRICS, as well as its ability to act as a counterweight to the West.
“The global economy is going through a transition — we are at a threshold,” said Eric Li, chairman and managing partner of Chinese venture capital firm Chengwei Capital, during a panel on the evolving BRICS bloc.
Li added: “There’s a potential for the Global South … to move up the value chain, to get the high-value industries, and that does pose a threat to the center where they make most of their money from — it’s just pure economic competition.”
The Global South is a term used to denote emerging economies or underdeveloped nations, while the Global North implies advanced democracies.
According to the International Monetary Fund, the gross domestic product of the BRICs bloc in 2022 was worth $26 trillion.
The term was created as BRIC, without South Africa, by Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill in 2001. He believed that by 2050, the four BRIC economies would come to dominate the global economy. South Africa was added to the list in 2010.
According to Andre Esteves, chairman of Argentina’s largest asset managers, BTG Pactual, the BRICS bloc can be a source for stabilization in the long term.
“If you look at how the Chinese leadership is advancing technology, the amazing digital revolution in India or Saudi Arabia, the leadership in energy transition or Brazil that last year constructed a fiber optic broadband network to the level of technological agricultural revolution that we see, the BRICS are leading numerous subsegments of the technological revolution, which is quite healthy for the world,” said Esteves.
People often see success, said Anish Shah, CEO and managing director of India’s Mahindra Group, as economics affecting politics and not vice versa.
Shah added: “It’s very important for us to really look at what we need to do to address the challenges of the world. It’s very easy to get into a finger-pointing game and a politics-driven agenda.”
Economics, he added, can trump politics.
“We have seen this during this golden age of development,” he added. “We interact a lot with various governments from the world, and I would say that in our interactions with the developed countries as well, they are looking for stability in the world as well,” said Shah.
Nations such as China and South Korea are rising fast in the global economic landscape alongside blossoming economies in the East and Southeast Asian regions, demonstrating how the continent as a whole is increasingly providing an anchor for the global economy.
The Asian Development Bank estimates that Asia and the Pacific will grow 4.8 percent in 2023 and 2024.
Asia represents 60 percent of the world’s population, said Christine Tsai, founding partner and CEO of early-stage venture fund 500 Global, which she co-founded in 2010.
There is tremendous potential in what Tsai calls “rise economies,” or the fastest-growing markets after the US and China.
“When you think about the population that will be online by the end of 2023, it is projected to be about 5 billion, and this means there’s close to 3 billion that still has yet to come online,” she said, explaining how her company recently published research that took a global macroeconomic view of significant venture activity to identify 30 markets which they have dubbed as “rise economies.”
“There are trillions of dollars of potential value creation coming out of these ‘rise economies’, and about 11 of these 30 markets are in Asia,” she stressed.
Tsai added: “This is the macro view of why you should be looking at this market.”
A crucial question on the table during both sessions was the rising power of BRICS and the Global South compared to the continued dominance of Western institutions.
Business leaders from these countries noted how the Global South has often felt ostracized over the last few decades concerning major economic and political issues. Still, recent advancements seem to be changing the landscape toward a more equal playing field.
Many business leaders believe that the global economic landscape is shifting with the rapidly rising economies of BRICS and Global South countries.
“We are very used to a world dominated by the US dollar, but there is a whole new digital evolution that is happening, which is the emergence of central bank digital currencies, an example as an alternative way of business-to-business trading, which falls outside of the US dollar driven economy,” said Magda Wierzycka, co-founder & CEO, Sygnia Ltd, a South African financial services company.
For instance, PetroChina International on Oct. 10 executed a historic transaction, purchasing 1 million barrels of crude oil using the digital yuan or the central bank digital currencies.
This transaction came in response to a call by the government’s decision to apply the CBDC to international trade, underlining the digital yuan’s growing role in cross-border commerce.
Pointing out the CBDC transaction, Wierzycka said there is absolutely no reason why, with sufficient political willpower and cooperation of the central banks, one cannot develop an alternative trading mechanism to the US dollar as a global currency.
What is needed is a multipolar and multi-economic world, said Lubna Olayan, chair of the executive committee of Olayan Financing Co., where the northern and southern economies work and survive together.
“As businesspeople, we need to continuously try to navigate the business landscape and avoid politics, and that’s the reality of it if we want to operate in all parts of the world,” said Olayan, adding: “But can we ignore politics? No. We must navigate through it and be sensitive too, but unfortunately, we cannot ignore politics.”
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