Leaders of four rising stars of the global economy had their own summit Tuesday in Russia, in part to declare their independence from the Western countries that have long dominated international financial institutions. It was the first official meeting of the BRIC group: Brazil, Russia, India and China.
The meeting's host, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, made no secret of his country's desire to challenge the global institutions where emerging market countries are woefully underrepresented.
"The BRIC summit should create conditions for a fairer world order and a better atmosphere for solving urgent global tasks," Medvedev said.
The meeting was short, just a few hours long. The BRIC group at this point remains more an idea than an actual economic association.
It was Jim O'Neill, a London-based economist for Goldman Sachs, who first lumped the four countries together several years ago and gave them their collective acronym.
"I'm very proud of the fact that these guys are all meeting together," O'Neill said. "It's quite exciting."
O'Neill said he isn't sure whether there would have ever been a BRIC summit had he not identified the group and given it a name. "I've never really thought about that," he said. "I guess probably not."
In a world of political symbolism, names matter. All four BRIC countries have enjoyed spectacular economic growth in recent years. But Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, a risk consulting firm, says the BRIC countries are united mainly by what they are not.
"They are generally not a part of the developed world that created and led the international institutions that guide geoeconomic decision-making," Bremmer said.
As part of their challenge to U.S. economic interests, Chinese and Russian leaders have suggested in recent weeks that it may soon be time to replace the U.S. dollar as the main global currency. The BRIC summit communique, however, avoided that issue, perhaps in an indication that the four countries have quite different economic interests.
Indeed, the global economic crisis seems generally to have produced less international cooperation, not more, in spite of the shared suffering. While the BRIC countries were meeting in the Ural Mountains, U.S. executives and opinion leaders were gathering in Detroit to assess the U.S. economy.
"America's policy agenda today is subsumed completely with what's happening within the United States economically," Bremmer pointed out. "And if that's true in the United States, it's doubly and triply true in other countries around the world."
Another consequence of the crisis has been a rearrangement of the international financial order. Some countries will emerge stronger, some weaker.
"I think it's been a fantastic crisis for China," O'Neill said.
The collapse of their export markets has forced the Chinese to reorient their economy more to domestic consumption, and that shift could provide a more stable foundation from here on.
O'Neill credits the Chinese leaders for seeing the crisis as an opportunity to make changes they knew were necessary. "I think their response to this global crisis has been incredibly impressive," O'Neill said.
Brazil and India are also poised to emerge quickly from the economic crisis. Russia is lagging, but O'Neill predicts that the BRIC economies as a group within 20 years will be outproducing the G-7 industrial nations.