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The BRIC Bossa Nova

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With his usually contagious dash of hyperbolic swing, Brazilian President Lula cut to the chase: "A new global economic geography has been born." He had just met Chinese President Hu Jintao at the BRIC summit in Brasilia; and from Beijing to Moscow and Delhi to, yes, the Beltway, many would gladly get into Lula's groove.

The BRIC acronym -- referring to Brazil, Russia, India and China -- was created in 2001 by US economist Jim O'Neill, grouping the world's largest developing countries bound to turbo-charge the global economy for the next decades.

By 2010 you don't need to be a Goldman Sachs master of the universe to infer the BRICs will be among the top five national economies by 2050, alongside the US.

Lula -- whom Obama calls "the man", the most popular politician in the world -- may be over-enthusiastic. But the fact is the global "economic and political tectonic plates are shifting", and that's not Lula speaking but Robert Zoellick, the George W. Bush-appointed head of the World Bank. Zoellick was even forced to acknowledge the concept of "Third World" is dead.

He had to. The BRICs meet in Brazil roughly one week before the annual World Bank and IMF schmooze-in in Washington, where the BRIC voice will be louder. No wonder; they are giving more money to the IMF and should enjoy higher veto power. Most of all they want more transparency; the 2008 financial crisis - which by no means is over -- was created by the current financial architecture.

The first BRIC meeting was in Yekaterinburg, Russia, in June 2009. Then they discussed the global financial crisis and the possible replacement of the US dollar as the world's reserve currency.

The question is of course inevitable. Are BRICs on their way to create a common currency - an alternative to the US dollar? Not until they have an overarching, unifying ideal. If they have a common global project, they will inevitably establish a common market, and then a common currency. The euro took 50 years to be born.

At the moment, as China's Foreign Ministry would put it, it's all about "South-South cooperation", "strategic partnerships", "common development" and "common understanding".

Unlike the US, the BRICs are not currently wallowing in the mire; they are not facing a monster financial crisis and they are growing steadily. They are all regional leaders. And they all preserved a privileged role for public investment in their development model. Most of all, the "more transparency" mantra prevails - and will be developed again at the next G-20 meeting in Canada in June.

BRICs represent 42% of the world's population, roughly 15% of the world's GDP, and almost 30% of world trade. But this powerhouse is only in its infancy. It's not even a commercial bloc yet, such as the European Union or Mercosur. As a group, the four countries are at a stage of turbo-charging commerce -- and setting up an agreement between development banks in Brazil, India and China for common-interest projects.

In Brasilia experts discussed the Brazil-Argentina experience of trading in local currencies - and not in US dollars. The next stage, as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev enthusiastically points out, includes multiple cooperation deals on agricultural technology, nuclear energy, aircraft engineering, space exploration and nanotechnology.

BRIC is far from being a homogeneous group. China and India are fierce Asian rivals. China is not exactly fond of India trying to get a seat at the UN Security Council. China and India are ultimately competitors to get oil and gas from Central Asia. Quite a few Russians are wary of Chinese expansion in Siberia. India is now exactly fond of Brazil - one of the world's top food exporters - wanting to slash tariffs on agricultural products. And Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega would be at home at the US Treasury -- calling for the yuan to be appreciated as it wreaks havoc among Brazilian manufacturers.

It's Brazil that seems to have a few comparative advantages in relation to the other BRICs - a full democracy, solid institutions, a stable economy, very good relations with its neighbors. And as the State Dept. has not failed to notice, it's the only "Western hemisphere" member of the group.

As much as the BRICs are the new global bossa nova, their common agenda definitely does not stress antagonizing Washington. Yet they will keep insisting on remaking the global financial architecture -- and that starts with profound reforms at the Bretton Woods institutions. They will be increasingly powerful inside the G-20 -- reducing the G-8 to irrelevancy. They happen to have the same position on Iran: dialogue, not confrontation.

But the name of the game is evolution -- not revolution. The BRICs are on their way to becoming the de facto, global, rival superpower to the US. By playing bossa nova -- not heavy metal.