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ECONOMY: China ‘No Model for India, Brazil or South Africa’


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Developing countries do not need to abandon democracy in order to attain higher levels of economic growth, the heads of three influential think-tanks said in Johannesburg earlier this week.

They were addressing a Johannesburg media conference following the launch of a consortium of think-tanks from India, Brazil and SA - three rising democracies seeking more inclusive forms of economic growth.

Dr Sergio Fausto, executive director of the Instituto Fernando Henrique Cardoso in Brazil, told journalists China had achieved ‘astonishing’ levels of economic growth. However, he doubted whether the Chinese model could be replicated in any other developing country, and it could certainly not be done in Brazil.

“We have nothing against China – it’s very interesting to know what’s going on in that country, and to engage with Chinese businessmen and academics.

“But replicating their model in our societies is simply not possible. Besides that, we do not wish to replicate the Chinese model in our societies, and we don’t see any reason to be seduced by it,” Dr Fausto added.

Ann Bernstein, executive director of the Johannesburg-based Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE), said India, Brazil and SA presented an alternative model of development to that of China.

“There is no need to sacrifice liberal freedoms, human rights, and democracy to achieve high rates of economic growth and the include millions of formerly excluded people into the economy. We can learn from other democratic developing countries and make our countries much more effective at growth, inclusion and development,” said Bernstein.

Dr Pratap Mehta, president of the Centre for Policy Research in India, said there was ‘massive interest’ in the Chinese model in India, and politicians and bureaucrats from many other developing societies – including SA -- were travelling to China to study its system.

However, other developing countries presented many relevant experiences and lessons. Thus the Indian government was sending delegations to Brazil every month because it was trying to create a new welfare system and the Brazilian cash transfer scheme was the most compelling model.

There were also high levels of interest in the SA constitutional court as well as other aspects of the SA legal system.

“Our three societies will always operate within this triangle of growth, democracy and inclusivity. We could try to redefine this triangle, but ultimately we cannot not escape from it without effectively destroying our societies as we know them today,” Dr Mehta added.

The main objectives of the new consortium are to develop comparative insights about these and other middle-income democratic countries; use these to strengthen domestic reforms for higher and more inclusive growth; and provide democratic developing countries with a greater voice in the global arena.

According to the consortium, the participating think-tanks have been drawn from India, Brazil and SA because all three are market economies which have achieved significant levels of economic growth; are seeking to make growth more inclusive; are all multiparty democracies; and are pivotal countries in their respective regions.

The consortium began its three-year programme with a workshop on states, markets and inclusive growth in the three countries, attended by local and foreign experts and held in Johannesburg earlier this week.

A second conference, on the nature and role of the middle classes in India, Brazil and South Africa, will be held in India later this year. As the initiative develops, think tanks from other democratic developing countries may be invited to join.

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