Speculation about an expansion of BRICS that had been doing the rounds in recent weeks finally ended with confirmation at the group’s
Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa were the five members of the grouping. Now, Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been included. Their membership will be activated in January 2024. Several other countries are also waiting to join BRICS.
The group came into being in 2009 with four countries before South Africa joined in 2011. The expanded BRICS will be more representative of the world’s developing countries and a champion of the Global South.
It will have more power to offer alternative models of growth and development that will help the global poor to deal with inflation and disruption in the supply of food, oil and other essentials.
It will also give developing countries the power to demand better representation in institutions such as the United Nations Security Council, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which are now dominated by the West.
Importantly, it can act as a bridge between the most developed and the least developed economies and promote better coordination between the two sides to make a multipolar
world order a reality.
With the new members, BRICS will represent 40 percent of the world’s population and a quarter of its GDP. It will significantly increase its heft and will include key oil producers-Saudi Arabia, Iran, the UAE, Russia and China.
The expansion comes amid growing criticism from the western world that BRICS – hailed a decade ago as the impressive grouping of the world’s fastest-growing economies – had become moribund.
Some western commentators had encouraged India to move away from BRICS, which includes autocracies China and Russia, and initiate a new group with countries that are democracies.
India chose to ignore such suggestions and stuck around to encourage new members in BRICS and help bring the Global South to the centre stage of international affairs.
Some observers described BRICS as a China-dominated group. This argument found some takers as barring China and India, the economic growth of the other three members fell drastically in the past few years.
With the addition of the six members, some views suggest the new BRICS will reduce China’s dominance. India and other countries have often accused China of trying to project its primacy in Asia while championing multipolarity in the world to challenge America’s global hegemony.
Still, China remains a very important and strategic partner for most of the new members. For the oil-producing countries, China is their largest buyer and biggest investor.
Latin America’s Brazil and Argentina are also heavily dependent on the Chinese market and investments from Beijing. Ditto with countries in Africa. For most countries in BRICS, including the new members, China is the biggest trading partner and investor.
Its success in brokering a deal between rivals of the Islamic world – Iran and Saudi Arabia – has also provided a political dimension to China’s heft.
But BRICS members and the countries that will become a part of it in January are also close partners of India. In recent years, their relations with India have expanded to several areas beyond oil.
Many of them find that developing ties with India is a useful hedge against putting all their eggs in the China basket. An expanded BRICS might be a platform that is unlikely to be dominated by any single country to ensure its progress and ability to challenge institutions dominated by the West.
The US and the West
Even with the presence of China, Russia and Iran in the new BRICS, most countries will maintain strong ties with the US and European countries. Though the West Asian countries have developed close relations with China and Russia in recent years, it would be foolish to think that they will give up on the US, the main security provider for Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt.
India is a close strategic partner of the US and both sides cooperate on a widening range of areas. But India has also maintained close strategic ties with Russia, its main weapons supplier.
Most countries will continue to develop relations with both the US on the one hand and with China and Russia on the other. BRICS will allow them to expand and maintain strategic autonomy in a world that is exceedingly becoming polarised.
Some Chinese commentators suggested that BRICS could soon outmatch the G7, a group of the most powerful economies. According to a chart on the website of the Visual Capitalist, the combined nominal GDP of the G7 is $46 trillion, while that of BRICS is under $28 trillion. However, the PPP (purchasing power parity) GDP of BRICS is $56 trillion and that of the G7 is $52 trillion.
Moreover, the G7 economy is likely to slow down in the future because of its aging population. But the economy of the developing countries would grow because over 50 percent of their population is under 25 years.
However, these are optimistic projections about BRICS’ future. A lot will depend on how cohesive and cooperative the members remain for their combined growth and development.
As the six countries become members of BRICS in January and more join the group later, it could become a major platform of the Global South, allowing developing countries to articulate their concerns and interests better for a more equitable world.