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Is South KOREA the missing K in the BRIC

While the world is going gaga over BRIC and the buzz it has garnered is surely going to mesmerize the developed and the developing alike, I really wonder if someone is missing from this elite club. Does K in Korea logically fill this blank or is it a desperate attempt by me to make this word sound meaningful?  While the odds may be stacked against including K in the BRIC, I will yet be persistently making a strong case for BRICK. Some may argue that Korea is already a developed economy and should not be included in this group; I will say Korea is still not uttered in the same breath as US, Japan, Germany, Britain or France. Arguably it is much more developed than BRIC nations but it too is grappling with the challenges akin to an emerging economy. Some also believe that South Korea is somewhere between developed and the emerging economies, a theory which does sounds plausible. May be facts can help us in picking up subtle clues as to why South Korea is the right candidate for BRICK?15th largest economy with a GDP of USD 1.16 trillion and 12th in terms of PPP (Purchasing Power Parity), growth rate of nearly 4% and foreign exchange reserve of USD 300bn, it's undoubtedly one of the most robust and fastest growing economies. Many others in BRIC like India and China, who had a dream run in the last decade, are steaming off. Essentially an export oriented economy with a range of products and services like semiconductors, wireless telecommunications equipment, motor vehicles, computers, steel, ships, petrochemicals etc., it has left many of its contemporaries far behind. 

Unlike China, South Korea has earned a reputation of excellence in engineering and R&D. Samsung and Hyundai, two giants from South Korea, have literally redrawn the automobile and electronics landscape. It was almost impossible to think of someone breaking the hegemony of GM, Suzuki, Toyota and Chevrolet until few years ago but Hyundai Kia motors has not only broken that but has taken a clear lead in the segment. Samsung, an unknown entity until early 90s has literally thrown NOKIA out of the business in the smartphone segment. Something unimaginable not very long ago. SONY, another electronics giant, is fast losing market share in electronics space. Success is not limited to the electronics and automobiles alone, shipbuilding, armament and construction sectors have equally catalyzed the economic growth of Korea.

South Korea did not have a smooth run. It too had its share of challenges like many other Asian economies. It bounced back from the Asian financial crisis on the back of extensive financial reforms and is one of Asia's few expanding economies. With a growth rate of 4%, South Korea is one of the steady growing economies along with the BRIC nations. South Korea unlike BRIC nations is very small in geography and has a different set of challenges. Even though it fares much better than BRIC Nations in terms of HDI (Human development Index), it still has to find a solution for its ageing population and social welfare. With virtually no natural resources, South Korea is overly reliant on exports, and global weakness can really take a heavy toll on its economy. South Korea, to its credit, successfully managed to avoid global recession in 2007-2008. While South Korea is more developed than BRIC nations, slowing global economy, falling exports, high inflation, faltering KOSPI, policy slowdown, privatization are daunting challenges for the country. But what really keeps South Korea and the world on tenterhooks is its neighbor, North Korea. With such a belligerent neighbor, South Korea needs to spend 2.7% of GDP on defense and military. Many global conglomerates see it as a potential risk and often shy away from massive investments. 

With all the facts, analysis and theories in place, I am tempted to believe that South Korea is not an ideal candidate for an emerging economy but it does not also qualify to share the podium with the G7s. Nonetheless we cannot deny that South Korea is a force to reckon with and will define the new world order along with the BRIC nations. We will need to broaden our horizon and the definition of BRIC to include South Korea in it. Calling BRICK as a steady growing block rather than an emerging economy block can justify South Korea's inclusion in the BRICK. This K (South Korea) indeed provides strength to the BRICK.


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