Tierra del Fuego: a new dimension to BRICS+

The declarations by the new authorities of Argentina regarding the country’s plans not to accept the invitation to join BRICS may have led to consternation across the Global South. But what this BRICS expansion debacle has uncovered is a potential new dimension to the format of BRICS+ that may open new gateways to South-South cooperation. This new venue for BRICS+ was suggested by the authorities of Argentina’s Southern-most region – Tierra del Fuego. In particular, Andrés Dachary, the Secretary of the region’s external relations, declared that this Argentinian region was willing to become part of the BRICS+ cooperative framework that would bring together the various regions of BRICS+ countries. Such a proposal may deliver an important impulse to the crystallization of the BRICS+ concept in the direction of a multimodal platform that offers optionality to its participants on the possible pathways and formats of economic cooperation.

One issue needs to be clarified right away – Tierra del Fuego is not seeking membership in the BRICS core instead of Argentina (as was misleadingly implied in some of the media sources) – the official statement referred not to BRICS, but rather BRICS+ as the platform of economic cooperation in which this Argentinian region was seeking participation. Indeed, the key rationale provided by the Tierra del Fuego authorities with respect to establishing cooperation links with BRICS+ was the economic expediency of building ties with a “bloc that accounts for 25% of global GDP”[1] (with the recent wave of expansion this share will be somewhat higher). The statement itself is a call to “create a network of regions” as part of the BRICS+ platform, with Tierra del Fuego becoming part of such a cooperative network[2].  

The proposal coming from Andrés Dachary is an important contribution to the evolution of the BRICS+ concept that so far is still in great need of greater clarity as well as academic and practical elaboration. In early 2017 when I first advanced the concept of BRICS+, it focused on the possibility of building a platform of cooperation among regional integration blocs, in which BRICS countries were members[3]. More recently, after the widening of the ranks of the BRICS core promulgated at the summit in South Africa in August 2023, BRICS+ started to be occasionally used to refer to the new expanded set of BRICS economies. Mr. Dachary’s proposal may hopefully re-focus the evolution of the BRICS+ concept towards building a multimodal platform of economic cooperation not just for countries, but also regions and regional blocs. In fact, there is already a municipal BRICS+ forum that has taken place in Russia in the past several years that brings together representatives of the regional authorities and business circles from the developing world – the latest one took place in St. Petersburg on November 9-10, 2023[4]. In effect, there is already a platform for discussing the future modalities of economic cooperation among the sub-national regions of the BRICS+ world.

There are also several important observations to be made regarding the reaction of the BRICS to the developments in Argentina. First and foremost, the BRICS countries respect the choice of the Argentinian people in the elections and continue to express readiness to develop ties with this important Latin American economy[5]. The Argentinian episode in the BRICS expansion will also raise questions as to whether the expansion of the BRICS core was in fact the optimal path of the group’s development compared to the scenario of expanding the BRICS+ cooperation and making this a flexible mechanism for cooperation for a wide variety of economic agents and constituencies across the Global South. An earlier and a more concerted effort to develop the various modalities of the BRICS+ format would have opened more options for sub-national constituencies, supra-national regional blocs and their development institutions to participate in a wide platform of South-South cooperation. In any case, the initiative from Tierra del Fuego should be taken as an opportunity to actively develop the BRICS+ concept into a cooperative economic platform that brings together regional blocs and sub-national regions/municipalities from the Global South.

In the end, there is a degree of symbolism in the declaration of the Tierra del Fuego on the willingness of this region to cooperate with BRICS-plus – it is that the appeal and the inclusiveness of BRICS+ has propagated throughout the expanses of the Global South and has reached its very outer limits. Tierra del Fuego, being the southernmost region in Argentina at the very edge of Latin America is sometimes referred to as “el fin del mundo” – the “edge of the world”. It is from these very edges of the Global South that a rejuvenated effort to re-construct and re-imagine BRICS+ cooperation emanates – hopefully a new beginning that will be carried on in other parts of the BRICS+ space. And just like the light from far away quasars (the lighthouses for cosmic navigation) reveals the scale of our Universe, so too the messages from the “Lighthouse at the End of the World” (el Faro del fin del mundo)[6] tell us how great are the expanses of the Global South[7] and the promise of South-South economic cooperation.

[1] https://www.eldiariodelfindelmundo.com/noticias/2023/12/01/104089-tierra-del-fuego-busca-ser-provincia-adherente-de-los-brics

[2] https://www.sur54.com/noticias/2023/12/01/109464-proponemos-la-creacion-de-una-institucion-paralela-para-adherir-al-bloque

[3] https://brics-plus-analytics.org/re-thinking-the-brics-on-the-concepts-of-brics-and-brics/

[4] https://en.imbricsforum.com/

[5] https://www.reuters.com/world/china-reaffirms-support-new-nations-joining-brics-argentina-signals-rejection-2023-11-20/

[6] “The lighthouse at the end of the world” (Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse) is situated in Tierra del Fuego, not far from Ushuaia. “The Lighthouse at the End of the World” is also an adventure novel by French author Jules Verne – the novel was inspired by a different lighthouse at the Isla de los Estados (also Tierra del Fuego). Jules Verne at the start of the novel states, “the Argentine Republic had displayed a happy initiative in constructing this lighthouse at the end of the world”.

[7] The distance between Ushuaia and Beijing is 18,300 km – this is close to the maximum antipodal distance between two points on planet Earth (antipodes) that equals approximately 20,000 km; https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/what-is-an-antipode-in-geography.html

Image by Marciorahal via Pixabay