Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE will become full members of the bloc in 2024
Chinese President Xi Jinping hails ‘historic’ expansion, urges group to ‘write a new chapter’ for emerging market cooperation
Brics members have agreed to admit six more members to the bloc, adding “heavyweights” with deep pockets, key oil exporters, and countries with booming populations and strategic locations, observers said. At the Brics summit in Johannesburg on Thursday, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, the current chair of the group, said Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates would become full members from January 1, 2024.
He said the five Brics countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – had reached an agreement on the guiding principles, standards, criteria and procedures of the expansion process, which had been under discussion for a while.
Experts say Brics expansion is likely, but details will be tricky as members’ priorities differ
Questions about membership process and criteria have yet to be addressed as the bloc of five nations appears headed toward the addition of new members
More than 20 countries from the Global South have made formal requests to join the group of emerging economies
Hours after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi defied predictions of a stalemate over a potential Brics expansion by saying he supported plans to add more countries to the group of five emerging economies, experts warned that the “devil is in the details”. “India fully supports the expansion of Brics and welcomes [the] move forward on this based-on consensus,” Modi said on Wednesday in his first public comment on the issue, as Brics leaders met for a second day in Johannesburg, South Africa. The bloc’s current members are Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Sarang Shidore, director of the Global South Programme at the Quincy Institute of Responsible Statecraft, a think tank in Washington, asked: “What is the kind of mechanisms that we will put in place in the Brics summit and beyond to get these members?”
Shidore said there could be intermediate stages of membership, adding it was “quite normal” in other groups like the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) to have “dialogue partners, observers and so forth”.
But, he wondered: “Would that be the process? What would be the criteria?”
Tanvi Madan of the Brookings Institute, a Washington-based think tank, described Modi’s support for Brics enlargement as “an Indian acquiescence of necessity more than choice for something China has been pushing for the last six years”.
She reposted an opinion article titled “The Hidden Trickery in Brics Expansion” written in June by Indrani Bagchi, a foreign policy commentator based in New Delhi.
Expansion “should not become a way for China to hijack the Brics identity and agenda, as they have done to SCO. China’s trying to stuff Brics with its ‘friends’,” Bagchi warned in the article, adding that “India, sensibly, is proposing it becomes criteria-based.”
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said an announcement on expansion would be made at the summit, which ends on Thursday.
Over 40 countries from the Global South have expressed interest in joining Brics, with more than 20 making formal requests, according to South African officials.
Shidore said he was expecting a “process-oriented” announcement emerging from Johannesburg rather than a list of any new members.
Others say Brics expansion could be a bad idea.
According to Ahmadi Ali of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, a “rapidly expanded Brics won’t necessarily be more powerful”.
“Indeed, it could make the organisation more incoherent and unable to reach a clear consensus on anything of importance,” he wrote for Doha-based Al-Jazeera news.
So far, China and Russia have been the strongest proponents of the bloc’s expansion.
Harsh V Pant, vice-president of the Studies and Foreign Policy at Observer Research Foundation, a think tank based in New Delhi, said the logic for China to support the expansion was “very clear at a number of levels”.
He noted that the five members’ economic strength is “not as promising as it was when the platform was first announced in 2009”.
“Russia is getting marginalised in the global economy, while China is facing a difficult economic environment with the West turning against it. Therefore, it makes sense for China to bring in new players and bind them to its own economic coattails,” he said.
Pant added that there was a growing perception in India and Brazil that China’s interest is “not in working together and coordinating actions with them to seek greater voice for the emerging players, but rather in making the Brics a platform that is anti-American in its orientation and shaped by Chinese priorities”.
Shidore of the Quincy Institute said India and Brazil had a different view.
He said that India was never “completely opposed” to expansion and that the issue was more about “how to do it”, adding that Brasilia “may have the most reservations because it is the one club where Brazil is a very prominent member”.
“In India’s case, that’s less pressing because India is a member of many other forums, and is also a close US partner that gives it some openings.”
According to Brazilian government sources, Brasilia wants China to publicly declare its support for Brazil’s bid for a permanent seat the UN Security Council if it wants Brazilian backing on Brics expansion.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said at the summit on Tuesday: “It is very important for Argentina to be in Brics.”
Argentina has been dealing with historic inflation, shrunken foreign reserves and debt repayments.
Lula criticised the IMF’s US$44 billion loan deal with Argentina as “suffocating”, suggesting a possibility of the Brics’ bank stepping up its lending to other countries with “different criteria” to stimulate their economies.
On Wednesday, Lula called for a common Brics currency for commercial transactions among member countries. “The creation of a currency for trade and investment transactions between Brics members increases our payment options and reduces our vulnerabilities,” he said.
But Brics watchers say there’s not much known about the bloc’s plans to reduce dependence on the US dollar.
“The New Development Bank, established by Brics in large part to facilitate the de-dollarisation of state lending, is largely dependent on the dollar and is now struggling to raise that currency due to having Russia as a founding member,” said Ali of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy.
He added: “Its chief financial officer recently acknowledged that you cannot step outside of the dollar universe and operate in a parallel universe.”