Africa within the expanded BRICS

As the BRICS expansion is set to further unfold in the course of this year, one of the important implications of this process is the rising role of Africa within the grouping. While in quantitative terms Africa’s share of BRICS membership has risen appreciably, its qualitative role in some of the key tracks of BRICS development is even more important. This is the case in particular in such critical areas of economic development as migration, human capital development, sustainable resource management, trade liberalization and coordination among regional integration blocs led by BRICS economies. In some of these tracks, such as trade liberalization, Africa has a more ambitious agenda than most of the other regions of the Global South, something that is further magnified by Africa’s rising stature on the international stage as exemplified by last year’s accession of the African Union as a full-fledged member of the G20.     

Within the emerging dialogue among the regional blocs and organizations of the Global South on trade liberalization, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is set to play a critical role. In particular, Enoch Godongwana, South Africa’s Finance Minister, in the beginning of 2024 stated that South Africa would champion the tenets of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) within the expanded BRICS grouping. This is a very important declaration that opens the possibility of taking the BRICS+ cooperation to the level of regional integration arrangements. In particular, the creation of a circle of economic cooperation among the main regional integration blocks uniting the expanded BRICS economies could include MERCOSUR (Brazil), SCO (China, Iran) as well as UAE and Saudi Arabia (members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)), Eurasian Economic Union (Russia) as well as the African Union and the AfCFTA (Ethiopia, Egypt, South Africa). The AfCFTA platform could play a key role in the South-South trade liberalization process as among the main regional blocs of the Global South the African Union/AfCFTA has the greatest representation in the expanded BRICS+ core (three core members of the African Union/AfCFTA are also core members of the expanded BRICS+).

The importance of Africa in the evolving cooperation among the regional integration blocs of the developing world is closely linked to its key role with respect to the trade liberalization impulses across BRICS+. This is because trade policy among BRICS members is largely driven by their respective regional integration groups, which in the case of South Africa, Ethiopia and Egypt are represented by the AfCFTA and the African Union. In addition, Russia and Brazil are also pursuing their trade accords through their regional arrangements – the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and MERCOSUR respectively. This is also the case in part with the UAE and Saudi Arabia that are jointly forging FTA accords via the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), though in recent years there were signs that the UAE also opted to pursue economic and trade accords on its own[1]. With the majority of expanded BRICS members pursuing trade agreements either entirely or partly via their respective regional trade blocs, the case for creating a BRICS+ platform for regional integration arrangements has arguably become stronger after the latest expansion phase. The scope for trade liberalization within such a platform is sizeable (given how high import tariffs on agricultural goods are across South-South trade), with more open markets for Africa’s exports being the most important potential contribution of BRICS to the success of AfCFTA.          

Another important track for BRICS where Africa’s role is critical is human capital development and migration. Two new BRICS members – Ethiopia and Egypt – are among the largest sources of migration flows from Africa, while South Africa is a key recipient of migrant resources on the African continent. Africa as a whole will deliver the largest contribution to global population growth in the coming decades, with its share in global population expected to reach a quarter by 2050 and 40% by 2100[2]. Furthermore, 13 out of 20 largest cities in the world by 2100 are to be concentrated in Africa, including all of the top-3 positions in this ranking[3]. Among the top-10 most populous economies of the world in 2100 half are projected by the United Nations to come from Africa[4]. All these figures suggest that the BRICS+ framework and the New Development Bank (NDB) need to accord greater priority to issues such as human capital development and migration in the context of building the group’s cooperation with the African continent.

In the end, the development of the BRICS+ platform together with AfCFTA is an opportunity for the African continent to play a leading role in the Global South on such important tracks as trade liberalization and cooperation among regional integration arrangements. A prosperous Africa is the key to the world economy successfully addressing global issues such as sustainable resource management, poverty reduction and human capital development. Indeed, the success of the BRICS enterprise and its contribution to global welfare will depend crucially on the ability of the group to unlock the development potential harbored in Africa.

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[2] Andrew Stanley. African century. Finance and Development. September 2023, pp. 16-17