What are the potential alternatives to BRICS+?

The discussions on the creation of platforms such as BRICS+ that would bring together some of the regional integration blocks of the BRICS economies into a common platform of “integration of integrations” have progressed slowly at best. At this stage, most of the BRICS members have not yet outlined clearly their vision of what BRICS+ should represent as a concept despite numerous academic articles on this subject written in the past 5-6 years. At the same time, the process of closer cooperation among the regional integration arrangements has been revitalized recently, with MERCOSUR and the EU looking to boost their bilateral ties as well as cooperation with other regional blocks. There may hence be reasons to expect platforms of the “integration of integrations” that are alternative to BRICS+ to emerge in the coming years as the forces of regionalism are gaining momentum in the global economy.

As has been argued in the preceding years (Y. Lissovolik. A post-pandemic revival for regionalism: the role of the EU, 2020) one of the potential scenarios in the sphere of building a platform for regional integration blocks could be an EU-led effort that would bring together the largest regional integration arrangements that have cooperated extensively with the European Union. Such regional integration blocks from the Global South include the likes of MERCOSUR as well as GCC and ASEAN – the name for such a block could be MEGA on the basis of the first letters of the participating regional groupings. Such a North-South platform for the leading regional projects from the developed and the developing world could build on the already extensive advancements made by the EU in pursuing various cooperation initiatives with other regional blocks in areas such as green transition and digital development. One of the key near term “integration of integrations” in this EU-led track could be the EU-MERCOSUR FTA that has been revitalized after the coming of Lula to power in Brazil.

Another possible route is for the leading Global South regional arrangements to build their own platform that would composed of those regional arrangements that have been most active in building bridges with other regional integration blocks. These regional arrangements include the GCC, the African Union, MERCOSUR and ASEAN – the resulting GAMA platform brings together leading regional integration projects from all of the main regions of the Global South – Latin America, Africa and Asia. This platform could focus on delivering greater openness and trade concessions to the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) in view of the significant import duties still in force in the majority of the economies forming such a platform, particularly in Latin America and in the Middle East. 

Another South-South platform of “integration of integrations” could be based on the IBSA grouping that is formed by India, Brazil and South Africa. Regional integration blocks from these economies, namely BIMSTEC, MERCOSUR and the African Union/AfCFTA could join forces with ASEAN to create an AMBA platform that apart from greater openness could also advance principles of neutrality/”non-alignment”. 

Finally, there is the possibility to create a platform of regional arrangements led by the BRICS economies. In the past decade the outreach activities of BRICS economies at the annual BRICS summits involved the participation of BIMSTEC from India, Eurasian Economic Union from Russia, African Union from South Africa, MERCOSUR from Brazil and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) from China/Russia. The BEAMS grouping that brings together all these regional blocks from BRICS “outreach portfolio” could advance BRICS initiatives along a wider BRICS+ circuit that involves the regional partners of BRICS core members. Such a platform could focus on such BRICS issues as the use of national currencies and payment systems, digital cooperation as well as trade liberalization. The platform could involve a BEAMS+ outreach to other regional blocks from the Global South, including ASEAN and GCC. Within the BRICS+ framework there may be a number of variations of the BEAMS approach, with the “integration of integrations” focused on trade liberalization bringing together the likes of BIMSTEC, EAEU, ASEAN-China FTA, AfCFTA, and MERCOSUR. 

The main question at this stage is why none of the above platforms have been formed thus far. In the case of an EU-led scenario this may be due to the proclivity of the EU to proceed along the “integration of integrations” path on a bilateral basis, while retaining the leadership role in the regional realm in the Western world and globally. With respect to the AMBA and the BRICS+ routes there may be issues related to the lack of institutionalized/advanced South-South integration projects coming from India and China. Perhaps at this juncture the most likely platform to materialize in the coming years may be the GAMA grouping that brings together the most advanced and institutionally functional integration arrangements from the Global South.  

Despite the slow start, the creation of platforms of regional integration blocks will increasingly become a key factor in the evolving competition between the advanced economies, the BRICS and the non-aligned economies. Of course, the possibility set of integration arrangements from within the vanguard of global regionalism may present many more formats for regional strategic alliances. Going forward there could be much more scope for the creation of North-South platforms as well as for the US and China to become more active in building not only bilateral but also regional alliance platforms. But what is clear is that whichever platform of “integration of integrations” comes first will exercise strong “first-mover advantages” in the emerging new global governance construct.