BRICS core expansion on ice

Expectations of a speedy accession of new emerging economies into the BRICS core will have to be postponed, at least until next year. This appears to be the sum total of the discussions and declarations made by officials from the BRICS+ economies over the past week. According to the recent statement of Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the majority of the members of the expanded BRICS have opted to put further expansion in the BRICS core on hold in order to focus on the full integration of the newly acceded members. The decision is perhaps as expected as it is sound in view of the need to clarify further the core accession criteria and the modalities of the soon to be created BRICS “friendship circle”. Even more importantly, pausing the core expansion will allow BRICS to focus on the key items in the bloc’s economic agenda such as boosting of trade and investment within the BRICS+ circle.

The decision to put BRICS core expansion on hold was expected and as we argued in our recent publication dedicated to Thailand’s bid to join the bloc, “while Thailand’s application to join the grouping is certainly a boost to BRICS, the further pace of its expansion and the timing of Thailand’s eventual accession are at this stage uncertain. With increasing membership, BRICS may need to spend time to duly integrate the new members that acceded in the beginning of 2024. There may also be discussions on the future modalities of further expansion, with decision-making and consensus on these issues arguably harder to secure in view of increased membership. The near-term prospects for Thailand may be further participation in BRICS+ meetings and the inclusion into the “circle of friends” of the BRICS that may be announced as the bloc’s new initiative at the summit in Kazan in October 2024”[1].  

Postponing further waves of BRICS expansion should allow the bloc to focus more on delineating the workings of trade and investment cooperation within the BRICS+ format and on how this pragmatic economic cooperation is to be developed in the context of further expansion as well as the creation of a BRICS “partnership circle”. There may indeed be a need to attend to some of the problematic areas in BRICS economic cooperation, such as the lack of a clear road-map of mutual trade liberalization and the rising number of trade restrictions among the BRICS+ economies. Similar issues need to be addressed in the investment sphere as well as with respect to mutual flows of migrant labour. These and other spheres of cooperation (including in the financial sector) will require consensus decisions from the members of the expanded grouping – something that will be progressively difficult to secure with further waves of enlargement.  

The pause in the BRICS core expansion points to the limitations of the approach associated with the one-by-one addition of candidate economies and underscores the need to explore other complementary modalities of scaling up the bloc’s cooperation with Global South peers. As we have pointed out on many occasions in the past, such modes of BRICS+ economic cooperation could include platforms for regional integration arrangements and their development institutions or platforms for the member countries’ sovereign wealth funds (SWFs). Pragmatic BRICS+ expansion in the economic domain may also include a widening membership of the New Development Bank (NDB). There may also be scope to allow for extended BRICS++ formats that allow for closer economic cooperation with some of the advanced economies, their regional economic blocs and the Bretton Woods institutions. In other words, while BRICS core expansion may be temporarily on hold, the widening outreach of the bloc to the global community may continue to advance unabated.    

Yaroslav Lissovolik, Founder, BRICS+ Analytics

Image by geralt via Pixabay