The upcoming BRICS summit in South Africa is becoming one of the key events in the global economy this year as reflected not only by the widening coverage in the mainstream media, but even more importantly the possibility of the participation of some of the Western leaders in the event. The declaration of the French President Emmanuel Macron regarding his willingness to participate in the BRICS summit is significant in several respects. Firstly, it highlights the rising importance of the BRICS summits and their success in cooperating with a widening circle of key economies in the Global South. Another aspect is that the BRICS greater openness as reflected in the BRICS+ format opens up the possibilities for broader platforms of dialogue that include not only developing, but also developed economies. In this regard, the expression of interest on the part of the French President could be taken as an opportunity to expand the inclusiveness of the BRICS outreach formats, with the possibility of launching a BRICS++ platform that would be designed to promote the development of North-South cooperation.
In many ways, the success of BRICS in the past year as reflected in the rising number of BRICS countries willing to join the block, is attributable to the BRICS+ format that was launched by China in 2017 and successfully expanded in 2022. The BRICS+ platform was originally designed to promote cooperation with the developing economies – in 2017 China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi declared: “We will widen the circle of friends of the BRICS and turn it into the most influential platform for South-South cooperation in the world”. And while the BRICS+ format could remain geared towards broadening the circles of BRICS friends in the Global South, a complementary format such as BRICS++ could address the mounting needs and the possibilities associated with establishing a BRICS dialogue with the developed economies.
It should be noted that there have been steps undertaken by developed economies to expand the lines of communication with the Global South – in particular, the G7 outreach activities increasingly involve the invitation of developing countries, including BRICS members such as India during this year’s G7 summit in Japan. The BRICS could reciprocate by creating a special format for the participation of leaders from advanced economies to discuss the possible pathways for boosting North-South cooperation. Apart from the invitation of some of the Western leaders to the BRICS++ platform, there could also be scope to invite representatives of regional development banks, regional financing arrangements and other key economic institutions from the advanced world. The scope for BRICS++ to expand would hinge to a significant degree on how pragmatic and economically focused Western participation is going to be within this platform; another factor is the greater recognition of BRICS and its inclusion into the various fora/meetings advanced by the developed economies regionally and globally.
One of the ways to render the BRICS++ format pragmatic would be to look at the possibility of using it as a platform through which common North-South initiatives could be discussed, including within the view to their further coordination in Bretton Woods institutions as well as in the G20. Indeed, the North-South coordination during the G20 meetings has been problematic in many respects (not least due to excessive politicization) and the BRICS++ discussions could provide more economic substance and continuity into the North-South economic cooperation in international organizations. Some of the pragmatic themes could include North-South cooperation in boosting green development financing, including through a common platform for regional financing arrangements and regional development banks from the Global South and the advanced world. Other key areas are joint action on debt relief, food and energy security, trade liberalization and the promotion of health-care and digital development for least developed economies, with a special focus on Africa. Supporting the integration of the African Continental FTA (AfCFTA) into the global economy via joint North-South initiatives could also be an important goal.
In the end, the expression of interest coming from France to participate in BRICS activities should be taken as an opportunity to strengthen North-South economic cooperation as well as a way to demonstrate BRICS rising inclusiveness and openness on the international stage. A BRICS++ format would be a logical continuity of the BRICS greater outreach and openness to the global community. In case the BRICS is successful in providing a platform for pragmatic North-South dialogue, its global role would expand and allow the block to advance initiatives across a greater array of areas of the world economy.
Author’s note: forst published in BRICS+Analytics