Thailand prepares for BRICS entry

The circle of developing economies expressing the desire to join the BRICS grouping continues to expand in 2024 and this time it is one of the largest economies in Southeast Asia. According to Thailand’s Government spokesman Chai Wacharonke, on May 28, 2024 the cabinet approved a draft of the official letter that indicates Thailand’s intention to become a member of BRICS[1]. According to Mr. Chai, the letter states that “Thailand realizes the importance of multilateralism and the increasing role of developing countries in the international arena… Becoming a BRICS member would benefit Thailand in many dimensions, including enhancing the country’s role in the international arena and increasing its opportunities to co-create a new world order.[2]” Furthermore, the letter also states that “the country’s vision is in line with the BRICS principles”[3].

The decision on the part of Thailand to apply for BRICS membership does not come altogether unexpected, given that on several occasions the country participated in the BRICS+ meetings – in fact Thailand was among the first emerging market economies to participate in the BRICS+ meetings in 2017 in China. Thailand has also actively participated in China’s BRI projects, ranging from infrastructure development (such as the Thai-Chinese high-speed railway) to the creation of special economic zones[4].

For Thailand greater cooperation with BRICS may bring more investment flows and trade, particularly if trade liberalization initiatives become a more prominent part of BRICS agenda. BRICS may also be an important platform for Thailand in reinforcing its credentials as a regional power in Southeast Asia that can deliver a tangible contribution to resolving global economic challenges. For the BRICS economies Thailand is an important entry point into the most dynamic and fastest growing region of the global economy. Thailand is ASEAN’s second largest economy that is uniquely positioned at the intersection of several regional blocs – most notably ASEAN and BIMSTEC – something that makes it a critical link in developing greater economic cooperation across such regions of the developing world as Southeast Asia and South Asia.

The decision on the part of Thailand to apply for BRICS membership may provide further impulses within the ASEAN grouping to explore the prospects of developing economic ties with BRICS. In 2023 one of the possibilities was the accession of Indonesia to BRICS, but despite the readiness of the bloc to accept it as the largest economy from ASEAN, Indonesia opted not to join the grouping. Given the latest decision from Thailand, Indonesia’s participation in the BRICS+ meetings in 2023 and the outcome of the presidential elections in Indonesia earlier this year there may be greater momentum coming from Indonesia to join the BRICS 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.   

With the largest economies of Southeast Asia developing closer ties with BRICS, there may also be scope in the medium-term for the BRICS to create BRICS+ platforms for regional integration blocs that would include the ASEAN as one of the most dynamic and advanced regional integration projects of the Global South. Some of the key economic policy tracks that may raise the potential for cooperation between BRICS and ASEAN include trade liberalization across regional integration blocs of the developing world, digital cooperation (where ASEAN is one of the global leaders) and the discussion of common approaches to environmental policy.      

Yaroslav Lissovolik, Founder, BRICS+ Analytics

Image by viarami via Pixabay