The growing power of “emerging” economies makes them important players in future debates and plans for development
Does north v south still work? The public debate on development has been viewed through this prism for decades. It's been the framework for global and national campaigns against debt, trade and other northern injustices that have impoverished the south. We've won many struggles, though other injustices persist. Global trade rules and subsidies, for example, remain fundamentally unfair and are set by the north and imposed on the south at immense human cost.
But the global response to these injustices is not just a matter for the north. It's been a long time since northern countries were in charge. The first G20 heads of state summit in 2008 was very belated recognition of the economic and political power of China, India, Brazil and other “emerging” economies. This shift has accelerated rapidly over the last two years, since the economic crisis. It looks certain to continue. It is northern countries that are struggling with fiscal deficits and slow growth. Between 2008 and 2020, the GDP ratio of industrialized and emerging members of the G20 is projected to change from 2:1 to 1:1.
Why “emerging” economies are important to our struggle
The public sees these trends of course. So the north v south story does not always ring true. But this shift in political and economic power is not a messaging issue. The implications for global campaigners are far broader. Oxfam and other global development NGOs are adapting to these trends, re-examining our campaign strategies and global distribution of our scarce resources. To do so effectively, we need to understand why the emerging powers of Brazil, China, India, Mexico, Russia and South Africa are important to the struggle against poverty and injustice. Here're three reasons. What do you think?
- First, these countries are increasingly wielding their political power in global processes that can help or hinder the struggle to end poverty. The climate change negotiations in Copenhagen are the most cited example of this. But they are critical players in other forums too. Their commitment to leadership and global cooperation on issues from trade and climate to food security is vital in determining the impact of these global negotiations on the world's poorest countries and people.
- Second, many of these countries are themselves sites of struggle. The much-cited number-crunching by the Institute of Development Studies' Andy Sumner shows that around three-quarters of the world's poorest people live in middle-income countries. These are startling figures, though less important than Sumner claims. The real issue is the underlying trends, and where the poorest people will be living in the future. It's clear that there are persistent income and associated regional inequalities in many emerging economies, though Brazil stands out as a country that has made rapid progress in tackling poverty and inequality under former president Lula.
- Third, these countries have direct impacts on poverty elsewhere. Is this the most important factor? This is partly about investment. The scale of this is immense, and strongly concentrated in natural resource sectors. Chinese investment in Africa is expected to exceed $110 billion in 2011. These investments are a huge driver of growth, but their impact on poverty is varied and complex. But in addition to this there are other important links between emerging economies and countries in their regions and beyond. These countries play a vital leadership and trend-setting role. New policies in emerging economies are often taken up elsewhere, as with Brazil's approach to social protection.
So a long-term strategy for the emerging economies is hugely important for Oxfam and other NGOs that want to have a truly global impact through advocacy and campaigns. Oxfam has been working in these countries for some time. We have independent Oxfam affiliates in India, Mexico and Hong Kong, and national programmes in Brazil, Indonesia, Russia and South Africa. The further ahead one looks, the more important it will be for our global campaigns to secure the commitment and leadership of powerful countries in both north and south. So we're developing a long-term advocacy and campaign strategy for these countries and for the G20.
Our limited resources must be in the right places. But more important, we need to ensure that these resources make the difference. We need very different national strategies to be effective in varied political and social contexts. A recurring theme for us has been the importance of working with partners and allies, in countries with long and rich traditions of social activism. We'd love to talk more to others about their experience and plans, nationally and globally.
Originally posted on the Guardian's Poverty matters blog. You can follow Stephen Hale on Twitter @SHaleGeneva.