The BRIC Countries

Jim O’Neill, global economist at Goldman Sachs, coined the term BRIC countries in 2001 and argued that the economic potentials of the emerging markets of Brazil, Russia, India, and China are immense in the decades to come. These countries cover 25 percent of the world’s land mass, 40 percent of the world’s population, and are increasingly run as global market economies.

Between 2002 and 2007, annual GDP growth averaged 3.7 percent in Brazil, 6.9 percent in Russia, 7.9 percent in India, and 10.4 percent in China. Popular predictions have the combined economies of the four BRIC countries outstripping that of the G7 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom and the United States) within the next couple of decades.

Less impacted by an economic downturn

The four BRIC countries will also be less impacted by a global economic downturn. It is true that demand for products from Brazil and China will be weaker, that India’s service sector could suffer, and that Russia’s heavy reliance on the hydrocarbon sector will potentially be hit by falling energy prices. But the positives in these economies far outweigh the negatives.

For example, the BRIC countries have large surpluses in international trade as well as reserves in foreign currency that create a buffer in economic downturns. The BRIC countries’ governments are likely to use the reserves to increase spending which should result in increased consumer confidence and demand. In fact, an economic crisis globally is likely to remove potential inflation problems in the BRIC countries. The result is easing of interest rates and even more economic growth.

The BRIC countries are organizing

The BRIC countries are also realizing their unique potential and collective standing in the global marketplace. The May 16, 2008 meeting of the foreign ministers of the BRIC countries in Yekaterinburg (Russia) was their first formal independent meeting (outside of meetings in conjunction with activities of the United Nations) and signals the four countries’ potential trade and political association.

In a joint statement, the BRIC countries urged the creation of “a more democratic international system founded on the rule of law and multilateral diplomacy.” Brazil’s Foreign Minister Celso Amorim says, “We are changing the way the world order is organized.” Our meeting signals “new quality cooperation” in the quadripartite format, added Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. India’s External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee hailed BRIC as a “unique combination of mutually complementary economies” which was also stressed by China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, who said that “our cooperation will not be aimed against other nations.”

However, for international business and trade purposes, the four countries are vastly different. For example, Goldman Sachs predicts that Brazil (e.g., soil, iron ore) and Russia (e.g., oil, natural gas) will become dominant in the world economy as suppliers of raw materials, while India and China will be prosperous global suppliers of manufactured products and services. Key strengths and weaknesses along with key trade issues are presented in the tables (summarized from information and data obtained from

Economic and population changes

Brazil. Since the Real plan in 1994 led Brazil out of recession, growth has been sluggish at around 3 percent annually compared with the other BRIC countries. Internal and external constraints have challenged more rapid income growth. Current population growth rates are similar to that in the United States infant mortality rates have also been improving in the last decade.

Russia. After experiencing stagnation both before and after the economic collapse of 1998, Russia has experienced strong growth of late. A devalued ruble and relatively high oil prices have helped the Russian economy grow. On the other hand, Russia is experiencing declining fertility rates, resulting in declining population of about 0.5 percent annually. The decline in population has implications for both the labor force and productive capacity of the country.

India. Increasing service exports and foreign investment have been India’s main vehicles of growth in the economy. This strengthening of the economy is a function of a stronger focus on education and literacy. These factors help to explain the rising GDP growth. But, the population growth may be an issue in the future. The country is growing its population at about 1.6 percent annually (now having a population around 1.1 billion).

China. Comprehensive reforms in the financial and corporate sectors have facilitated China’s superb economic growth rates. In addition, an increasing focus on industrial exports and monetary transparency have led to increased foreign investment and also serve as drivers of China’s economic expansion. China’s population exceeds 1.3 billion, making it the most populous country in the world, but growth rates are decreasing due to China’s one-child policy.

Tomas Hult, PhD, is associate dean for global initiatives and director of the Center for International Business Education and Research in the Eli Broad College of Business at Michigan State University. Mr. Hult is also executive director of the Academy of International Business and co-founder of Hult Ketchen International Group, LLC. Professor Hult can be contacted at


Key Strength

Key Weakness


Brazil boasts abundant and varied natural resources and a relatively diversified economy with favorable labor costs.

Social infrastructure is lacking (e.g., investment in energy, rail, road, and ports) and public debt has remained high and exposed to domestic interest rate trends.


Russia has a wealth of natural resources, a skilled labor force, and relative political stability which has strengthened its regional and energy position.

The investment rate is among the lowest for major emerging countries.; this has also resulted in the industrial sector lacking competitiveness because of pressures associated with the obsolescence of capital equipment.


Private Indian companies are a key asset to the country, benefiting from advantages in several economic sectors (e.g., IT, outsourcing, pharmaceuticals, textiles).

Despite some real progress, the financial situation in the public sector continues to be India’s primary weakness, with debt service draining fiscal revenues to the detriment of development spending.


Industrial competitiveness and diversification have benefited China’s trade with other countries, with strong foreign financial investment facilitating the country’s strength.

A number of key weaknesses exist in China across vastly different areas (e.g., environmental issues are obstacles to sustainable growth; increasing inequality has resulted in growing social tensions; overcapacity threatens several industrial and commercial sectors).


Key Trade Issues

Politics & Freedom Index

(1-30=Free, 31-60=Partly Free, 61-100=Not Free)

Corruption Index (10=least corrupt, 0=most corrupt)

Tax Misery & Reform Index (lower score is better)

Economic Freedom Index (higher score is better)

Ease of Doing Business Ranking

(higher score is better)


























By Tomas Hult, PhD

Tomas Hult, PhD, is director of the Center for International Business Education and Research (funded by the U.S. Department of Education) and professor of international business at Michigan State University. He is also executive director of the Academy of International Business. Professor Hult’s expertise is in international business strategy and supply chain management.


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