Johannesburg, South Africa – The BRICS bloc of the largest emerging economies has taken a major step in expanding its reach and influence with the announcement that it will invite six more countries to join as new members.
Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been invited to join as full members from January 1 of next year.
The bloc, which was formed in 2009 with Brazil, Russia, India and China, expanded for the first time to include South Africa in 2010.
Now, it says it seeks to create a stronger coalition of developing nations that can better put the interests of the global south on the world’s agenda.
Before the start of its annual summit in South Africa this week, more than 40 countries have expressed interest in joining BRICS, and 23 countries have applied formally to join.
“We appreciate the great interest shown by the countries of the Global South in BRICS membership,” the bloc said in the second Johannesburg Declaration it adopted on the last day of the summit on Thursday.
It said the six were chosen after “the BRICS countries reached a consensus on guidelines, criteria, criteria and procedures for the BRICS enlargement process” – but gave no further details on the specific criteria.
“It is difficult to find commonalities among the six BRICS countries invited to join other than that each is an important country in its own region,” Danny Bradlow, a professor at the Center for Advancement of Scholarships at the University of Pretoria, told Al Jazeera. .
And with the inclusion of Saudi Arabia, Iran, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, “you could say it’s very Middle Eastern,” according to Sanusha Naidoo, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Global Dialogue, a South African think tank focused on China and Africa. .
“This has geo-economic, geo-strategic and geo-political implications,” Naidu said, saying that the recent additions will prompt some BRICS countries to think more about their policies in the Middle East, and push China and India to strengthen existing policies.
China recently brokered the re-establishment of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, a role traditionally occupied by a country like the United States.
India recently signed an agreement with the UAE to deal in Indian rupees and UAE dirhams instead of US dollars.
More importantly, the expansion slate is “very much energy-centric,” Naidoo said, adding that after the announcement, some analysts on the spot sarcastically commented whether they should “call it BRICS plus OPEC?”
She added that in selecting new members, the union may have taken into account the pricing of energy products, and how their countries can reduce their liability and vulnerability to the cost of oil.
Besides Russia, both [the core BRICS countries] They are non-energy producing countries. “They need to be able to make their economies work, but they don’t want to fall into the collateral damage of sanctions,” she explained.
The use of “unilateral sanctions” against countries and the continued dominance of the US dollar in world trade is something that the BRICS group is loudly challenging.
Karen Costa-Vazquez, a non-resident fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, said the expansion “opens up new avenues for trade”.
Vazquez added that one of the goals behind the planned expansion is to “create opportunities for BRICS countries to trade more easily with each other using local currencies.”
“This shift can increase the usability of currencies other than the US dollar, especially by creating a network of countries that enhance the utility of their currencies.”
Analysts say one of the countries that could benefit from a trading system outside the dominance of the dollar is Iran.
“It’s clear that Iran will be the biggest beneficiary,” said Naim Gina, a senior research fellow at the South African think tank of the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Thinking.
Her inclusion, he said, “highlights the fact that she is not as politically isolated as the United States would like her to be”.
Inclusion could also be an “economic lifeline” due to increased bilateral trade.
“Members will start trading with each other in their own currencies. For Iran, that would be great.”
Gena added that Argentina was a “boot in” as their inclusion was supported by Brazil, China and India. He added that analysts expect Algeria, which has oil reserves, or Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country and its leading economy, to be included among African countries.
“I think this is an indictment of our foreign policy, or lack of it. We used to be very unitary in our foreign policy, and that has changed,” Chita Nwanzi, partner at SBM Intelligence, a geopolitical consulting firm focused on West Africa, said of Nigeria’s exclusion.
“One thing that is very clear is that most of the rest of Africa – with the exception of Nigeria and Kenya – is moving away from the West towards the East. We stick to the Western camp without saying it outright, but most importantly without getting any benefits from being in the Western camp.”
Gena said the inclusion of Ethiopia, a country with one of the fastest growing economies, which also hosts the headquarters of the African Union, “makes sense in these terms”.
Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are similar to India, and to some extent South Africa, Gina said, in that “these are countries that have one foot in the BRICS and another foot in the West.”
But Saudi Arabia, in particular, is “positioning” itself in such a way as to show that it is not only in the American camp.
“They have other options now and they will benefit from those options,” he added, such as the China-brokered deal to restore relations with Iran.
“Your problems are not our problems”
However, analysts remained hesitant about what the expanded BRICS group would say to the West and what it would mean for the current world order.
“The group now represents a larger share of the world’s population and economy. However, this only means that the group is likely to be a powerful voice and actor in reforming global governance arrangements.
“Whether that voice actually becomes so will depend on whether the enlarged group is more effective than the BRICS in forging agreements on how to reform global governance arrangements and how they can more effectively serve the interests of the entire global south.” “.
Naidoo pointed out that “Iran’s presence in the BRICS group sends a tremendous strong message to the G-7, to the global north, and to Washington.”
“It is said, ‘You can have a problem with them, we will keep them here.’ He also says, ‘Your problems are not our problems.’”
She indicated that South Africa, which has important relations with the United States, may have to deal with the “ramifications” and deal with some of these tensions. But she also wondered if the country could use the fact that it was in the bloc to its advantage.
“Yes, they don’t have the economic power to do what they want to do, but they do have the strategic power to say, ‘The BRICS are behind me now, and I have a BRICS wall.'”
“We have to be careful about giving more importance to this expansive development than it really is… It certainly doesn’t make BRICS a global southern front. It’s just an 11-member club,” Jena said.
However, he added that so far, BRICS has not attempted to act as a political forum, but that may change.
“More scary [for the West] Of the six selected, 40 have expressed interest in joining. “The BRICS group is engaged in a gradual expansion… So where will it go in 30 years?
“Although the hype about de-dollarization is not in sight, the fact is that in a few years, two of the world’s three largest economies could trade with each other in a few years.” [BRICS] Without the US dollar, that would be a cause for some concern.”
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