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The BRICS expansion: myth or reality?

In 2019, the BRICS association celebrates its tenth anniversary. Over the years, both the positive reviews and sharp criticism have been addressed to the once most promising international bloc. The list of the original members of the organization was replenished with South Africa, and over the last couple of years there has been talk of further expansion. How are the political and economic relations of the bloc participants developing? Can we expect a new expansion of the membership of the BRICS group?

The first Summit of the BRICS group of countries (eng. – BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) was opened on June 16, 2009 in Yekaterinburg. Over the past 10 years, this integration association, despite attacks by Western countries, has been able to show important progress since its creation in 2009. First of all, the unit has already been able to develop more than thirty areas of cooperation, including such areas as economics and finance, health care, education and technological innovation, safety and business. The combination of these projects has led to a corresponding set of achievements aimed at extracting specific benefits for the participating countries.

In addition, from the very beginning of the process of creating the BRICS, there was a discussion that this integration association would later become an alternative to some existing institutions of global governance, such as the G8, in order to improve the existing global economic governance. The African Union Conference (held in Washington, DC in May 2019) demonstrated that today there is a willingness to coordinate with other institutions, such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, and that “institutional structure”, the New BRICS development bank, formed as part of the merger, is helping to consolidate the group’s importance in the international arena.

Another achievement of the BRICS over the past 10 years has been that the economic driving forces within the bloc are represented by the growing economies of China and India, as well as by the increasing, but difficult coordination within the RIC group (Russia, India, China), which has begun to promote its initiatives before the creation of the BRICS. However, after several informal meetings in previous years, the first RIC group, as the political coordination force of the bloc, held its first official meeting at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires in 2018. It is worth noting that the three RIC member countries are also members the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), whose main objectives are focused on ensuring regional stability and combating terrorism in the Eurasian space.

Taken together, the countries of the RIC group occupy more than 19% of world land and contribute to more than 33% of world GDP. All three are nuclear powers, and two of them, Russia and China, are permanent members of the UN Security Council, while India seeks to be one.

Returning to the achievements of the BRICS bloc, it is worth mentioning that this is an association of five major developing countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, which together represent about 42% of the population, 30% of the territory and 18% of world trade. At the X Summit of the group in Johannesburg in 2018, there was a call to increase trade within the bloc. As for trade between the BRICS countries, in 2002 it was $ 23.8 billion, and in 2012 it was already $ 248.2 billion. Nevertheless, according to analytical and statistical data, the BRICS still lags behind its potential capabilities, mainly due to differences in the size and scale of the economies of the participants and their trade interactions with other countries.

To date, the main challenges for the BRICS bloc are connected directly with a number of topics. First of all, it is necessary to increase the level of commitment of the participating countries to expand and strengthen the existing “institutional structure” through cooperation and interdepartmental formal agreements, as well as to expand interaction and trade within the association. Secondly, to work on the formation of common approaches to solving the problem of a rapidly changing global governance and to promote its development and, ultimately, reform. And thirdly, to solve new issues on the agenda of the bloc, on the basis of reaching compromises.

Turning to the main topic of increasing the membership of the bloc, according to some analysts, it is difficult to give an unequivocal answer as to whether the BRICS is ready for expansion, as the primary goal is likely to be to consolidate the group before inviting new members. Nevertheless, in the past two years, discussions have been under way about inviting Mexico and Argentina from the Latin American region to the association. In addition, there is the possibility of the inclusion of Arab countries in the BRICS. However, all these perspectives are still at a very early stage and will depend, first of all, on the ability of the participating countries to combine their efforts. Another emerging economy, which, according to a number of sources, could be a candidate for membership in the BRICS, is South Korea, especially if closer economic relations with North Korea become possible in the near future.

As for the Latin American region, as mentioned earlier, during the last two presidential periods, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (Spanish – Cristina Elisabet Fernández de Kirchner) and Mauricio Macri (Spanish – Mauricio Macri) promoted the inclusion of Argentina in the group. Initially, such an initiative was perceived by the member countries of the BRICS with some apprehension, due to economic instability, but now the situation is changing. During the current year, the idea that Argentina may become a new member of the bloc in the short term, as the political will of both the BRICS members and the Argentine government is observed, is becoming increasingly common in official statements. The president Macri participated in the X Summit in Johannesburg last year, Argentina is a close historical partner of Brazil within the framework of the MERCOSUR association (Spanish – Mercado Comun del Sur), and China – one of the most important trading partners. At the same time, Argentine ties with Russia and India are improving and deepening, both in the diplomatic and economic fields.

Today, China is still the main economic driving force of the BRICS. However, the Celestial Empire has its own foreign policy goals, focused on the materialization of the “Chinese dream”, and its main tool is the “One Belt, One Way” Initiative. This project promotes pragmatic economic cooperation based on mutually beneficial conditions for its supporters at the global level. Initially, Russia had an agreement through the “Greater Eurasia” project to link the Eurasian Economic Union with the “One Belt, One Way” initiative, however, as a result, the Russian government abandoned these plans, although the President Vladimir Putin showed support by visiting the Second forum “One Belt, One Way” in Beijing.

In turn, India does not want to accept the expansion of China’s role in Eurasia and the “One Belt, One Way” Initiative, and therefore is in search of its own sphere of influence in Asia and Africa, and also maintains its ties with the Indo-Pacific region. Brazil is still associated with China’s trade and financial investments, yet it has not yet become part of China’s project, like other Latin American and Caribbean countries, starting in Panama in 2017. Perhaps, the most susceptible to the Chinese initiative, the BRICS participant is South Africa.

Summing up, it is worth paying attention to the fact that with such an alignment of forces, the BRICS bloc is a less large-scale mechanism than the Celestial “One Belt, One Way” project. However, the BRICS is still an important part of China’s global projection mechanism, as part of Beijing’s aspirations to expand its influence in multilateral forums and international markets, as well as the possibility of building an alternative architecture of global governance in the midst of the protracted trade war with the White House.

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