Emerging countries can help eurozone, not save it

14:12 | 15/09/2011
Emerging countries rushing valiantly to the rescue of a Europe drowning in debt and keeping global growth from hitting the rocks? This is the message emanating from China and Brazil but one that analysts say runs financial risks and may have only a small impact.
File photo shows BRICS leaders - (L-R) India's Manmohan Singh, Russia's Dmitry Medvedev, China's Hu Jintao, Brazil's Dilma Rouseff and South Africa's Jacob Zuma - at a summit on April 14, 2011.

Brazil has announced that the BRICS group of countries of which it forms part with Russia, India, China and South Africa, will meet in Washington next Thursday to discuss how to help the European Union in its latest debt crisis.

And China has said it stands ready to boost European investments.

The proposal for the BRICS to help "makes a lot of sense," but would have a limited impact, according to Alex Agostini, chief economist at Brazilian risk analysis firm Austin Rating.

"Everyone has to be involved in looking for solutions because the economy is globalised and the crisis has negative effects in all countries," Agostini told AFP.

Help from the emerging economies, which have grown faster in recent years than the major industrialised nations, "could help to temporarily reduce this moment of volatility but it won't resolve the problem" of structural weaknesses in the eurozone.

NK Singh, an Indian lawmaker, said the BRICS must help contain the crisis or risk a drop in exports due to exchange rate volatility and increased "protectionism".

Analysts believe the emerging powers can help by buying bonds of debt-ridden eurozone countries.

"All emerging countries have current account surpluses, not just China, which has the biggest foreign exchange reserves in the world with more than three trillion euros ($2.2 trillion)," said Agnes Benassy-Quere, director of the French CEPII economic research centre.

"To recycle these surpluses, rather than putting everything in gold or Swiss francs, it would not hurt them to buy Italian treasury bonds," she said.

International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde has said emerging economies coming to the aid of Europe was "an interesting development".

"But if they limit themselves to buying bonds deemed safe by everyone, like the German and British (bonds), they wouldn't be taking much risk. My hope is that if interventions like this take place that they'll be large and not limited to certain states," she told Italian daily La Stampa.

This would mean buying bonds of which investors are fearful that they cannot be repaid in the long term.

The emerging countries may buy some, but are probably not ready to buy a lot of debt from eurozone countries currently feeling market pressure, said Bhanu Baweja, a specialist in emerging economies at the UBS financial services company.

The risk was too high, he said, and emerging countries facing their own domestic challenges.

Italy has admitted its finance minister met the head of China's largest sovereign wealth fund CIC last week, although officials said direct investments into companies rather than purchases of Italian government bonds was discussed.

The G7 group of rich countries -- Germany, Canada, the United States, France, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom -- failed last week to find any answer to the global economic slowdown, and has turned for input to the G20, which also includes emerging states.

South African Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan told journalists Wednesday that "within the G20 context we're going to have these sorts of interactions which are useful".

But while emerging economies may be able to help, he said "the crisis in the eurozone is one that ... the Europeans themselves need to resolve."

Benassy-Quere said that emerging economies, notably China, can help Europe by "rebalancing growth towards domestic demand", which would allow rich countries to sell their products there.

If they do not do so now, the emerging markets may have no choice later, she added.

"If global growth slows down, emerging markets will no longer be able to rely only on their exports and will have to develop their domestic markets. They must accelerate this trend," the economist said.


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