EM growth is passport out of West’s mess but has a price, says “Mr BRIC”

January 23, 2012

Anyone worried about Greece and the potential impact of the euro debt crisis on the world economy should have a chat with Jim O’Neill. O’Neill, the head of Goldman Sachs Asset Management ten years ago coined the BRIC acronym to describe the four biggest emerging economies and perhaps understandably, he is not too perturbed by the outcome of the Greek crisis. Speaking at a recent conference, the man who is often called Mr BRIC, pointed out that China’s economy is growing by $1 trillion a year  and that means it is adding the equivalent of a Greece every 4 months. And what if the market turns its guns on Italy, a far larger economy than Greece?  Italy’s economy was surpassed in size last year by Brazil, another of the BRICs, O’Neill counters, adding:

“How Italy plays out will be important but people should not exaggerate its global importance.  In the next 12 months the four BRICs will create the equivalent of another Italy.”

Emerging economies are cooling now after years of turbo-charged growth. But according to O’Neill, even then they are growing enough to allow the global economy to expand at 4-4.5 percent,  a faster clip than much of the past 30 years. Trade data for last year will soon show that Germany for the first time exported more goods to the four BRICs than to neighbouring France, he said.

“Post-crisis, these countries will be our passport out of this mess.”

But there has to be a payoff for this kind of increased financial clout, he warns. Developing countries are increasingly disgruntled about the the richer world’s strangehold on global policies via the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and most have responded coolly to the call for additional funds for the IMF which is fighting to stem the euro zone malaise. An attempt last year to install a representative of the developing world at the helm of the IMF for the first time ever fell apart, with Europe retaining the position. But emerging countries could make a bid for the World Bank chief’s position this year, a position traditionally held by a U.S. citizen. O’Neill said the West had to bow to the new reality:

“You can’t have it both ways…This game of ‘You have the IMF and I have the World Bank’ has to stop or these institutions are going to lose their relevance.”

He is also dismissive of fears China is headed for a so-called hard landing, a sharp slowdown of growth, potentially leading to unemployment, a property crash and social unrest in the world’s No. 2 economy.  ”A lot of people (in the West) want China to have a hard landing, ” he said. “And that’s because it isnt us.”

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