In a year marked by highly significant geopolitical events, Brazil played a major role in one of them: the announcement of the expansion of the BRICS in the bloc’s 15th Summit held last August. In addition to Brazil, China, Russia, and South Africa, from 2024, Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will be part of BRICS+.
Despite this announcement, the election of Javier Milei to Argentina’s Presidency puts a big question mark on the country’s entry into the extended BRICS. This week, the potential future head of Argentina’s Foreign Ministry stated that, at the moment, she sees no advantage for the country. It turns out that the global scenario and the reasons that led to the bloc’s creation are not the same as in 2006 when the first formal meeting of the original members (Brazil, China, India, and Russia) was held. At the time, these four countries represented the largest emerging economies, so alignment and cooperation among them made a lot of sense. The economist who coined the term in 2001 believed these four nations would take over the global economy by 2050.
More than 20 years on, a lot has changed in the economic reality of the countries in the bloc, causing a divergence that led to its creation. One only has to see the list of countries invited to join the BRICS to make sure of that fact. According to IMF figures, while Saudi Arabia’s GDP is US$ 1.11 trillion, Ethiopia’s GDP is US$ 120 billion. So, this is an extremely heterogeneous group.
This type of heterogeneity goes beyond economic indicators. The cultural and political diversity among the BRICS+ members is remarkable and is reflected in international trade. One expected goal for the bloc is the expansion of trade relations between its member countries. In 2022, Brazilian intra-bloc exports amounted to US$ 99.4 billion, 90% of which went to China. Among the bloc’s new members are relevant importers of Brazilian agricultural products, such as Iran, which in 2022 was the fourth main destination for our agricultural exports. Egypt and the UAE ranked 13th and 14th, respectively.
Although it does not constitute a formal economic group – i.e. without concrete trade preferences –, it is undeniable that any form of partnership of this nature places the ties among its members on a different level. Such collaboration creates an environment conducive to closer relations and promotes favorable circumstances for cooperation in several fields.
While BRICS+ presents itself as an opportunity to increase its members’ competitiveness, on the other hand, significant challenges must be addressed due to the countries’ different perspectives and interests in global issues – such as human rights and governance.
According to the Brazilian government, the bloc’s main goal is to change the system of global governance through cooperation by redesigning mechanisms such as the UN Security Council and presenting alternatives to institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for the fostering of emerging economies – such as the New Development Bank (NDB), currently led by Brazil. In practice, this means an alliance favoring the interests of developing countries, in contrast to the world’s richest countries – i.e., the G7, made up of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
In an increasingly polarized global scenario, with two ongoing wars, BRICS’ expansion must be assessed beyond economic issues. The tensions between the world’s two main powers (the United States and China) boost the two sides’ race to win over as many allied countries as possible. How BRICS+ will behave about this issue is still unclear.
As the bloc’s third-largest economy, Brazil has good diplomatic and trade relations with both the richest and emerging countries. Navigating this scenario of tensions is no simple task and demands pragmatism to make the most of the opportunities this context offers.
Sueme Mori is the Director of International Relations at the Brazilian Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock (CNA). Written in collaboration with Eric Ramos Pinheiro, CNA’s International Relations Advisor.