Economic Statecraft
‘The BRICS Path’: Key Aspects and Tasks of Expanding Membership

In order to achieve maximum benefits in economic cooperation within the framework of BRICS, it is necessary to involve the private sector as actively as possible; particularly through business associations of both BRICS and partner institutions such as the SCO and the EAEU, writes Valdai Club expert Sergey Mikhnevich. 

The strengthening of BRICS and the entry of this association into the ranks of the key institutions of global governance has actualised the issue of expanding its membership. As of early May this year, 19 countries have plans to become BRICS members: Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, the United Arab Emirates, Argentina, Indonesia and a number of other states. The motives for joining BRICS include the attractiveness of the existing model of cooperation, its agenda, as well as the desire of new members to become some of the key actors that will determine the direction of development of the multilateral international political and economic system in the near future.

Anil Suklal, South African BRICS Sherpa, notes that in a situation where “individual Western countries have taken hostage the multilateral system of relations and are using it to their advantage ... We (in BRICS — ed.), on the contrary, want to create a global architecture of international relations and do it together.” According to Kirill Babaev, the Director of the Institute of China and Modern Asia of the Russian Academy of Sciences, BRICS, along with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), “reflect the hope of some of the world’s states to create a system of inclusive and mutually beneficial cooperation, both in the field of security and in the field of economy, free from pressure from Western structures.”

One of the factors in increasing the influence of BRICS was the commitment of its members to develop approaches to cooperation, taking into account mutual interests determined by individual leading participants, without pressure and coercion determining the conditions for their implementation. The equality of all participants and the inclusive agenda are important elements that underlie what can be called the “BRICS Path”. This in itself acts as a powerful source of institutional “power of attraction” (as an analogue of “soft power”) of this association.

Despite years of talk about expanding the membership of  BRICS, the first and last addition since its establishment was South Africa in 2011, which added the letter “S” to the acronym BRIC. There are many reasons why, over the subsequent 10+ years, no other countries joined the association: from the risks of significantly complicating the programme of work and reconciling the not always coinciding interests of the parties to the “zealous attitude” of member states towards representing the interests of their regions in BRICS.

Even in relations between the current BRICS members there is a significant number of contradictions that make it difficult to deepen cooperation, as between China and India. With the expansion of the membership of the association, the points of tension, of course, will increase. For example, when Argentina joins BRICS, some competition may arise with Brazil, which will affect the solidity and potential capabilities of the organisation. In addition, determining a set of requirements for new members is also important.

It is unlikely that it will consist only of economic criteria or participation in the work of the leading institutions of global governance on a global and regional scale, such as the G20 or the SCO. The current members are more likely to develop some complex political and economic criteria that take into account the influence of the country in the international arena and its ability to solve the most important global problems in certain sectors, such as food and energy security.

As Dmitry Razumovsky, former director of the Institute of Latin America of the Russian Academy of Sciences, rightly notes, “today BRICS is no longer a club of growth leaders, and the ability of the candidate countries to effectively participate in solving the most acute current problems facing the developing world — the energy and food crises — is coming to the fore.”

In this regard, of particular importance for the BRICS is the extent to which its members will be able to build an effective programme of action against the background of the crisis of global institutions.

The movement along the “BRICS Path” as cooperation rooted in the development of comprehensive solutions through the balancing of mutual interests and renunciation of pressure can help mitigate the existing crisis phenomena and create positive conditions for the further strengthening of the members’ potential as leaders of the new multipolar world.

For this reason, it is important for BRICS to develop the optimal modality for using the possibilities of the BRICS+ format for “integrating integrations”, with the participation of the EAEU, SCO, MERCOSUR, ASEAN (through the Comprehensive Regional Economic Cooperation), the African Union, etc. The corresponding umbrella mega-format (Latin America, Africa, Eurasia) could be used to create a comprehensive institutional framework for promoting economic cooperation among all the countries of the Global South. Ekaterina Arapova and Yaroslav Lissovolik wrote about the prospects of BRICS+ for the formation of a new system of global governance, taking into account the needs of the countries of the Global South.

The real emergence of BRICS on the world stage also requires an increase in the efforts of the association’s members to coordinate their positions in other leading institutions of global governance, such as the G20. Within its framework, the BRICS member countries could come up with a consolidated agenda on key issues, using the experience of the G7.

At the same time, it is important for BRICS to “show practical results” in key areas. Among them, one can especially note industrial production, the agro-industrial sector, energy and transport, payment and settlement systems, i. e. spheres that play a special role in ensuring the viability of socio-economic systems. At the same time, it is necessary to strengthen ties in the field of harmonisation of regulation and digitalization — to ensure maximum seamlessness in the “articulation of fabrics” of developing ties, as well as educational and cultural contacts — to ensure their integrated and comprehensive nature through mutual confidence-building and the involvement of the “broad public and business masses”.

At the same time, it is important that the agenda should include not only the development of regulation and interaction formats, but also adaptive mechanisms and tools for cooperation, as well as the formation of a pool and the implementation of specific practical projects. Thus, if Iran joins BRICS, it may contribute to the use of the association’s capabilities for the implementation of the North-South international transport corridor mega-project, in which the current members of the BRICS are interested. Strengthening the project direction requires the adaptation and scaling of the work of the New Development Bank (NDB) to the new tasks and needs of candidate members, as well as the restart of its work in the Russian Federation, which was actually suspended under threat of sanctions by a number of Western states.

In conclusion, it seems important to emphasize once again that in order to achieve maximum benefits in economic cooperation within the framework of BRICS, it is necessary to involve the private sector as actively as possible; particularly through business associations of both BRICS and partner institutions such as the SCO and the EAEU. It seems promising to establish institutional links between the business councils of BRICS, the SCO and the EAEU. The basis for this could be the system of business dialogues of the EAEU Business Council, which was highly appreciated by the President of Russia Vladimir Putin. A joint business dialogue could become an effective supplier of trade, economic and investment projects, as well as represent a consolidated business voice on key issues of mega-regional integration development.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.