The nearing of the 2023 BRICS summit is expectedly generating all sorts of controversies around which candidate economies are to accede to the BRICS core or form a “circle of friends” of the grouping. The revelations of the past several weeks that there are divisions within the BRICS around the issue of the expansion is not all that sensational – in the past 5-6 years the theme of BRICS expansion has generated divisions and concerns from some of the core members. The important point, however, is that there is much that may be done within the framework of a flexible multimodal BRICS+ framework to accommodate the desire of a rising circle of developing economies to build ties with the BRICS bloc – and this opportunity should not be wasted during this year’s BRICS summit in South Africa.
In the academic world, the scenarios associated with the choice between expanding core membership and BRICS+ were explored in a Valdai club report in 2022 – the conclusion was that in some respects BRICS+ modalities may appear to be superior to an outright expansion in the BRICS core membership. As rightly pointed out by Andrew Korybko, in view of the concerns expressed by some of the BRICS members about the expansion in the core, “BRICS+ could be a mutually beneficial compromise”. And it is a compromise that has a notable degree of optionality built into it. After all, some of the possible tracks of BRICS+ as a multimodal platform for economic cooperation may include:
- Expansion in the membership of the New Development Bank
- Expansion in the “circle of friends” that are regular participants in BRICS/BRICS+ summits
- Construction of a BEAMS platform that would bring together all of the main regional integration arrangements of the BRICS economies
China that is the most active proponent of the expansion in the BRICS core is known for its long-term horizons and strategic planning – in this respect, in pushing for BRICS expansion it will need to keep in mind several longer term risks, most notably the increasing complexity of the attainment of consensus as well as the accumulation of frictions with members such as Brazil and India that have reservations regarding such a development route for the BRICS. Rather than attempting to secure the ultimate solution through a “big bang” BRICS expansion, a far more “Chinese/long-term” strategy would allow for the BRICS+ framework to accept a growing number of partners, with such a platform serving as a lab of innovation and exploration of the multitude of possible pathways to economic cooperation.
In terms of the realistic scenarios of the expansion in the BRICS as I have mentioned in the “BRICS+ Analytics” blogs earlier, “at this stage there appear to be two regions of the Global South that are yet to find their place within the BRICS core – these regions are the Middle East and South-East Asia. The largest economies coming from these regions that are also members of the G20 are Saudi Arabia and Indonesia – they are also the largest representatives of the respective regional blocks – GCC and ASEAN. Such a limited expansion to include two more developing economies would essentially allow the BRICS to cover all of the main sub-regions of the Global South, including the main regional integration blocks of the developing world”.
The inclusion of Indonesia and Saudi Arabia into the BRICS core would bring the total number of BRICS members to seven – on par with the G7 block. And while G7 is essentially built on the hierarchical principle of the largest developed economies forming the group, the BRICS7 is inherently more horizontal as the main principle will then reside in the representation of the main regions of the Global South. The incorporation of Saudi Arabia and Indonesia apart from bringing in representatives from all of the main regions of the developing world would also add to the BRICS core the key energy player in the world economy as well as one of the largest developing economies in the world by population and GDP in the coming decades. The main counter-argument against such a BRICS7 formation is that it further tilts the balance of core membership in favour of Asia, something that may be to a degree attenuated via greater scope to be provided to Latin America and Africa in various BRICS+ modalities, including in the BRICS-led BEAMS platform of regional integration blocks.
In the end, one thing is certain – this year’s summit will be a watershed event for the BRICS and the global economy as the somewhat ossified status-quo gives way to what is likely to be a significantly more inclusive, open and variegated partnership. At the end of the day, it is not that critical whether several more economies enter into the BRICS core or form part of the enlarged BRICS+ – what is crucial is that the circle of BRICS partners is expanding with important implications for the evolution of the global economy. What we are witnessing now is a tectonic shift in the world economy – a free choice of the developing world to create new partnerships and economic platforms such as BRICS+ that will direct global economic development towards a more balanced and equitable trajectory.
 In 2019 Brazil discontinued the BRICS+ format, something that was followed by India and Russia in 2020-2021.
 Arapova, Ekaterina and Lissovolik, Yaroslav, BRICS: the Global South Responds to New Challenges (In the Context of China’s BRICS Chairmanship) (July 13, 2022). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4301141 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4301141
 A somewhat more tangential issue is that the addition of these two countries does not necessitate a change in the BRICS abbreviation and the currencies of these two economies also start with an «R» – as in the case of all of the BRICS5 core economies.
Author’s note: first published in BRICS+ Analytics