BRICS a bust

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Jorge Germán Castañeda Gutman, former Minister of Foreign Affairs for Mexico, took aim at so-called emerging nations, including his own. Frank and insightful, he pulled no punches.

Jorge Germán Castañeda Gutman figures the BRICS are a bust.

Jorge G. Castañeda  spoke on Monday 27th to the Mexican Chamber of Commerce and he did not mince words. The former Minister of Foreign Affairs (2000-2003) and Presidential candidate was very undiplomatic in his direct assessment of the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and his native Mexico.  The former and once again academic was candid in his assessment on whether so-called emerging economies were also emerging nations. Sharp, insightful and direct are the style that have attracted him over 277,000 Twitter followers around the world.

The Mexican Consul General, Alicia Buenrostro delivered a glowing introduction to her former boss who spoke with a candour that she certainly, in her current role, cannot. Many of  our diplomat readers will empathise.  Former Mexican CG Andres Pena,  now with Chinese oil company CoPower was also present along with current Mexican CG staff, Canadian CG Ian Burchett, Brazilian CG Jose Soares, InvestHK chief Simon Galpin, HKGCC Chief Economist David O’Rear and a number of other current and former diplomats and major domos of international trade.

Speaking without notes,the question he answered was whether ‘emerging’ economies really deserved the title and if they were really emerging. While economic growth may have been ticking up nicely for a few years, the nations’ ability to act in a mature manner in other matters ranging from climate change and environmental, human rights and peacekeeping were  lagging far behind. Some have been demanding permanent seats on the United Nation’s Security Council.  Most were not, to Mr. Castañeda’s assessment, ready for prime time. Only China was, he conceded, attempting to wield political power commensurate with its new economic heft.

Brazil came in for criticism for only capitalising on Asia’s rise through the commodities boom now coming to its end. It was a regional power only sometimes, and ‘still doesn’t know what it wants to be when it grows up.’ The condition was judged to be endemic to countries south of the Panama Canal.  North of the Panama Canal, he did not spare his own Mexico for issues related to corruption, now influenced by Chinese companies.  Mexico was not as commodities reliant, except perhaps for oil to a small extent. But  the country is struggling to improve its exercise of rule of law as it makes strides in other areas. While its economic growth normally charts that  of the US and Canada, its main export markets, it hasn’t  of late, although it may be a delayed reaction to recent improvements in the US. Time would tell.

He felt India shared Brazil’s inability to pick a future and was too comfortable with the 1950s style view of non-aligned nations. It was only capable of influencing its immediate region when it could be capable of global influence.  South Africa’s silence on problems in its immediate neighbourhood, especially Zimbabwe, were incompatible with its human rights history. Russia came in for criticism as being a third world country with regional influence, little of it productive.

Given the normally safe language of diplomats, his comments were a breath of fresh air.  HT asked about his tendency for frankness and how that impacted on the relationships that ex-Ministers in most countries normally depend on for their post-politics success.  He explained that he was an outspoken academic before politics, so the transition wasn’t too difficult.  In most occasions, he believes, straight talk is more valuable  in the long run. He characterised Mexico as a place where people choose their words carefully and being a straight talker made him perhaps more unusual and valuable.

The Mexican Chamber has built a reputation with their top notch breakfast meetings at the Ritz Carlton and this event was particularly impressive. Senior Castañeda’s direct, and some more nuanced comments, speak well to quality of academia and politics in the emerging nation. Mexico has its challenges, but it clearly has some talented thinkers – and speakers – to help it see through to its future.