BRICS+ and Symbolic Endorsement to the Global South

BRICS+ in a snapshot

August 2023 marks an important period in the history of 21st Century Geopolitics. A grouping that was formed out of a forecasted analysis by a Goldman Sachs Economist in 2001 is now turning the tide towards creating a reformed multilateralism and a better realpolitik. Little did he know that this groping will be officially formed in 2009 representing a combined population of 3.5 bn out of the current world population of around 8.3 bn. The concept of the developed countries sitting in closed rooms and ideating on the vision of a global world order has become a footnote in history. Some ambassadors termed this setting as akin to apartheid. 15th BRICS Summit 2023 in Johannesburg titled ‘BRICS and Africa- Partnership for Mutually Accelerated Growth, Sustainable Development, and Inclusive Multilateralism’ had provided not only a stage for the BRICS countries but also for certain unheard economies that have time and again shown the capabilities of mattering in international relations. Today, Prominent global south countries are showing pathways in reforming multilateralism, advocating better sustainability policies, and expressing their avid interest in reforming Global Governance in the form of the United Nations. BRICS’ first phase of expansion through inducting six new members has shown that the grouping that first expanded in 2009 through South Africa is not a locked moment in foreign affairs. The admissions of new members show how BRICS is not a group that deals with global affairs in closed rooms without hearing the voices from outside. Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and UAE are the new members of the BRICS+ formulation. Pre BRICS+ represented 42% of the global population, 29% of the global GDP (around $27.6 trillion), and 18% of the global trade. So, even before expansion, 1/3rd of the growth and development of the world was coming from the global south. BRICS+ makes up 46% of the global population, 37% of the global GDP, and 25% of the global trade. BRICS+ will also help in increasing the share of global exports from 20.2% to 25.1%. Even before BRICS+, from 2008 to 2017, BRICS countries grew at an average rate of 8%, while the much developed north had an average growth rate of 1-2%. It is not overselling to say that BRICS+ only sharpens the axe to make the world hear what the global south has to offer. BRICS+ is also a geopolitical strike in bargaining a better deal for global energy security. BRICS+ now has 5 countries that come under the top 10 oil producers, with Saudi Arabia, Russia, UAE, Brazil, and Iran placed at 2nd, 3rd, 7th, 8th, and 9th position respectively. Out of this cohort, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and UAE account for around 30% of the share in the Global oil economy. If we count the whole grouping, BRICS+ would make up 43% of the global oil production, thus embarking on the journey of being the global energy powerhouse. The impact that BRICS+ will create is going to outweigh the impact that G7 is currently creating. The global GDP share of G7 countries is 30.31%, while that of BRICS is 31.67%. Even within BRICS, both China and India come at the 1st and 3rd spot in terms of GDP ($ PPP), with only the USA in between. Let us not also forget that the BRICS grouping has a history of just 15 years as compared to more than 4 decades of the setting up of G7.

India’s Geopolitical stratagem

There are other areas through which BRICS+ can be assessed. BRICS expansion is termed by certain scholars as a chance to smear the developed countries by presenting a global grievance redressal mechanism against the West. Moreover, the expansion seems like a geopolitical win for China to spearhead its anti-west rhetoric. However, at the outset, all the six countries have cooperative ties with the West, and as former foreign secretary Shyam Saran remarks, it cannot be turned into an anti-western lobby. Other contributors consider BRICS+ as a signpost of declining Western dominance.

India’s proven ability time and again to be a voice of the global south has rippled across BRICS too. The inclusion of Egypt and Ethiopia is a healthy sign for Africa, a gesture similar to India’s ambitions at the G20 2023 in New Delhi by inducting the African Union and making the global forum G21. India has another advantage in seeing the expansion from the lens of UNSC. Majority of the countries in the G7 support India’s candidature to the permanent seat at the UNSC, and except for China in BRICS, India has the relevant advantage when it comes to reforming the UNSC as BRICS+ can be the platform for India to aspire for equitable goals like reforming UNSC. There was a certain international setting that we inherited as part of the developing world, and that setting now no longer resonates with the vision and aspirations of the world in general and the global south in particular. Global South is challenging the rigid international architecture at which projects of development were financed. India’s foreign minister has voiced his opinion in saying that international economic grants have made the global south mere consumers instead of being manufacturers. It is due to these developments that the BRICS financial institution (New Development Bank) has plans to increase the disbursement of local currency to 30% (earlier 22%) in extending loans for development projects. China has its aim at looking at this expansion. China believes that the expansion of BRICS combined with a higher trajectory of trade in local currency will raise the trend towards de-dollarization. However, not all countries have full convertibility in currencies, which makes up for the difficulty in realizing China’s aspiration. Even today, global vehicular currencies like USD, AUD, Euro, and British Pound account as the important currencies in international trade, as they form the cohort of being fully convertible. Today, important global south drivers like India are showing better ways of managing development aspirations. Policies such as LiFE (Lifestyle for Environment) are aimed at balancing both development and greening at the same time. Aspirations of the developed world failed to take into account essential global governance elements like sustainability, which the global south clearly advocates for. BRICS+ has a clear aim of not becoming another hegemon or a pole, but a platform for ‘other countries’ that could not create an impact in transnational affairs like climate change, global development, and trade. One would like to question the current situation in which BRICS is aiming to expand. One would like to also ask whether BRICS+ has got ‘revisionist’ tendencies. And there are others like Jim O’Neill (the economist who coined the term BRIC) who has questioned the selection criteria itself in expansion. Apart from the six countries already inducted, 40 other countries have expressed their interest in joining BRICS. This is an indication that the agenda-setting of the world needs better ideas and better directions, and the toolkits of the former times will not create a better impact in the world now, especially with a more conscious and informed South. One however cannot negate the speed bumps when it comes to expansion. Countries like Argentina are hoping for a better deal in leaning towards this grouping by shifting away from the dollar dominance and skyrocketing inflation. Even internally, the presidential candidates in the run-up to the October 2023 elections in Argentina have different viewpoints on running the economy. Current Economy Minister Sergio Massa has tried to convince the voters that BRICS is the new hope for Argentina, which will also bond away from its dollar past, while Javier Miele is all about the dollar as the hope to save Argentina. Every grouping with tendencies of expansion has a natural problem that is not dealt via silos, as there are economic problems and there are political problems as well. BRICS expansion is not to be considered as a one-off solution to the problems of the global south. Even within the grouping, different political systems ranging from being full democracy to constitutional monarchy will invite certain foreign policy issues, but the intent is to address the grievances that hitherto were left unaddressed in yesteryears. In the next 5 year cycle, the report card of BRICS+ will be much better placed as compared to the last many decades of G7. Several leaders are looking up to countries within the current BRICS grouping to steer the path to a better multilateral world order. India’s current G20 presidency was hailed as the lighthouse for the global south to engage and discuss the predicaments currently affecting these economies. Several contributors have termed the expansion running in favor of China and its bold ambitions to further its anti-western agendas. But it is not a cakewalk to tread across diverse political streams and economic motives. Countries like India have time and again come upfront about prioritizing the needs of the global south. The world and particularly the Global South are looking towards India in mitigating the recent geopolitical turbulences. Even United Nations acknowledges this capability that India has to offer. Thus, BRICS+ can be a hopeful situation for India to envisage a rebalanced global order.

Sankalp Singh
Sankalp Singh
Sankalp Singh is an Assistant Manager at the Gems & Jewellery Export Promotion Council, a sponsored body by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India. His areas of interest are India’s foreign affairs and international economics.