BRICS++: the ultimate platform?

The process of building international alliances has progressed inexorably throughout centuries to encompass the greatest possible number of cities, states, countries and regions. Almost invariably such pacts were predicated on a certain ideology, allegiance to a dynasty, or other unifying themes. In almost all cases such alliances were inward-oriented or exclusive, with value-based conditionality underpinning the allegiance to the block. But what if a new global platform for countries and regional groupings were open-ended, allowing for differing ideologies as well as political and economic systems? Would that not finally constitute the ultimate platform with the greatest flexibility and scope to attain development goals?   

At first, the emergence of BRIC appeared to be yet another block seeking greater influence on the international arena. It was widely seen as yet another amalgamation of heavy-weights aspiring greater recognition.  Then something started to change with the addition of South Africa and the formation of BRICS – this was no longer just about scale, but also the inclusiveness of the platform to comprise the main regional centers of the developing world. Next came the creation of BRICS+ and the possibility of the emergence of the most extensive platform for all of the Global South. This transformation from an introvert BRIC into an extrovert BRICS+ that is open to cooperation with all parts of the developing world triggered a whole series of requests from developing economies to join the platform. 

But does this expansion process stop with BRICS+ or are there further possibilities to widen the scope of this platform? Indeed, the way to keep it in “ascension mode” is for the inclusiveness and openness themselves to become the subject of innovation. One possible further step in this direction may be to bring on board developed economies and their institutions. Indeed, some of the key elements for the dynamism of any modern platform such as innovation, technology, markets continue to be dominated by Western economies. And if the BRICS and BRICS+ principles of openness/inclusiveness are to be observed, it would be only logical for the BRICS to create a platform of outreach to the developed economies and their development institutions – something that could be undertaken via a “BRICS++” format. And in case criteria are advanced in the BRICS+ platform for the admission of new members from the Global South, there probably also need to be principles and criteria elaborated for the participation of developed economies and their development institutions in the BRICS++ platform. 

Such criteria may include the standard set of principles (explicit and implicit) that are used in international economic organizations such as the WTO or the IMF. One such core principle is reciprocity, i.e. greater openness of western institutions and fora with respect to the BRICS in return for their participation in the BRICS++ format. Another principle is the de-politicization of discussions (with excessive politicization greatly undermining the progress in G20 discussions) and the prioritization of an economic/pragmatic agenda. Apart from the possible presence of Western leaders in future BRICS++ summits, the BRICS++ platform could involve the invitation of trade and regional integration blocks (with participation from developed economies) such as the EU or RCEP. It may also be possible to invite the representatives of regional development institutions from the West such as the EIB, EBRD and others. BRICS++ could also become a venue for not just reconciling, but mutually reinforcing the operation of such connectivity projects as the BRI, the Global Gateway and the B3W project. 

Other possibilities for the BRICS++ platform may include discussions on the reform of global institutions such as the WTO. Environmental and green development priorities will also need to feature prominently within this North-South platform. Of notable importance for discussion may also be the issues of food and energy security. Another possible direction of development for BRICS++ could be the advancement of digital economy, AI regulations and the liberalization of North-South technology transfers in high-tech, IT as well as critical areas such as pharmaceuticals and health care.  Debt relief as well as the modalities of ODA more broadly for the least developed economies will also need to be part of the agenda. Most importantly, BRICS++ will need to explore the possibilities for supporting the Global South and in particular Africa’s AfCFTA in obtaining greater market access in the developed as well as developing world.    

As the gravity center of the global economy further shifts into the Global South, the role of BRICS/BRICS+/BRICS++ will increasingly grow in setting not only regional, but also global development goals. The BRICS+ platform may become the focal point for development efforts across the entire expanse of the Global South, while BRICS++ with time may represent a parallel/alternative/complementary track to global institutions or fora such as the G20 (where the inertia of the role of developed economies is slow to reflect the changing realities in the world economy). Rather than solely attempting to change the distribution of quotas and voting rights in the Bretton Woods institutions, creating platforms such as BRICS+/BRICS++ may allow the BRICS to facilitate a speedier and more organic adjustment of global decision-making to the rising prominence of the developing world.

After centuries of the shifting international alliances attempting to reach ever grander scale, it may be time for more inclusive and open-ended platforms to play a leading role in the global economy. The algorithm to attaining the greatest possible scale in building such platforms is for the largest members to temper the excesses of their Realpolitik and rise up to the shared responsibility for the future of the world economy. Could the BRICS++ as the new type of international alliance close the chapters of history aimed at global domination and open up the collaborative chapters of global development? Why not? – after all, ex oriente lux! And no, this is of course not another “end of history”. This is just the beginning.