By Annie Domini
Since its inception in 2009 as BRIC, the Brazil-Russia-India-China coalition which went on to include South Africa in 2010 to become BRICS, has been about inclusion and assertion of the Global South in international affairs. This Asia-Africa-Latin America spanning bloc has transformed from a fair economics-driven entity to now a veritable giant dedicated to birthing a multipolar world order, away from the American neoliberal hegemony driven unipolar, ‘rules-based international order’.
The 15th BRICS summit in Johannesburg, South Africa has been one of the most significant multilateral meetings in years, with the scope and scale of decisions impacting decades to come. With the announcement of its expansion to include six new members from all three continents — Saudi Arabia, Iran, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Ethiopia and Argentina — the BRICS+, or BRICS11, as it is set to become from 1 January 2024, is expected to shape world affairs in a much more definitive way. Russia is set to take over BRICS presidency from South Africa on 1 January 2024.
Along with the major economies of China and India, the expanded BRICS+ now includes energy-rich Gulf States, crucially both Saudi Arabia and Iran, as well as the UAE. 2023 saw the two erstwhile West Asian rivals not only bury the hatchet, but also repose a delicate trust in each other enough to join the BRICS simultaneously, thanks to the quiet efforts of Beijing to build bridges in seemingly very choppy waters. This lends massive heft to the economic might of the BRICS+ bloc, which wants to reshape the extremely uncertain current world order dominated by unhinged American militarism and dollar supremacy in trade, to one of peace, cooperation, stability and multi-currency mercantilism.
BRICS+ is also positioning itself as not an anti-American or anti-West platform, but one that wants true multilateralism, equity and dignity to be the cornerstones of international order. The leaders of the original BRICS countries, including President Xi Jinping of China, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, President Vladimir Putin of Russia (through video link), President Lula De Silva of Brazil and President Cyril Ramaphosa of the host South Africa, emphasised on the need for stability, respect for established international law and cooperation between the countries, while strongly criticising unilateral coercive measures such as sanctions, trade barriers and militarism. Thus, the primary focus of the BRICS+ bloc is aimed at developing alternative mechanisms to rectify the glaring errors and yawning inequalities of the present America-led ‘(America-made) rules based order’.
Already, the original BRICS bloc exceeds the G7 in economic heft, when measured in both purchasing power parity, as well as GDP. The new expanded BRICS+ will have six of the top ten oil, gas and coal producers in the world, thus decisively tilting the energy balance in its favour, bringing the Global South one step closer to a more equitable energy map. Moreover, BRICS+ also dominates the critical minerals market, thus ensuring a strong say in the emergence and redistribution of the new technologies of today and tomorrow, such as AI and quantum computing.
With a combined population of over 3.5 billion people and with many more countries waiting to join its illustrious ranks, including Indonesia, the fourth largest country by population, BRICS+ will have a genuine mandate to speak for the Global South. This will be in stark contrast to the G7, which claims to speak on behalf of the ‘international community’ while neither having the numbers in terms of population, nor the decency to actually consult the world at large on matters it chooses to recklessly interfere in with disastrous consequences almost every time.
One of the key aspects of the 15th BRICS summit was its insistence on bringing about the era of multi-currency mercantilism, i.e., doing trade in respective currencies in bilateral and multilateral economic exchanges, thus reducing the dependence of the US dollar. Already, the unilateral American sanctions on Russia, following the Russia-Ukraine war that began on February 24, 2022, have precipitated epochal changes in international economic order, with countries such as China, India, Iran, Russia, Brazil, among others opting to bypass the US dollar to trade in respective currencies.
The Johannesburg BRICS summit consolidates the seemingly impromptu multi-currency mercantilism into a stated objective, the outcome of which will be de-dollarisation and limiting the risks that various countries’ exposure to dollar subjects them to, as exampled in Argentina, Afghanistan, even Russia for that matter. In addition, alternatives to SWIFT, the US dollar dominated cross-border financial system, are also being created to support trade in non-dollar currencies, particularly the Five Rs, or Real, Ruble, Rupee, Renminbi, and Rand.
While the larger goal of creating a BRICS+ currency has been shelved for now, citing the need for much more robust geoeconomic structures to support such an outcome, it is nevertheless something the BRICS+ leaders almost unanimously agreed on. Even India, which has shown some reservation over the BRICS+ currency because of the expected China tilt of such a system, is nevertheless, not formally opposed to the idea. In fact, it must be remembered that despite the thorny border issue between the two Asian heavyweights, Beijing and New Delhi are genuine leaders of the Global South, with massive populations and remarkably similar standpoints on most international matters, as evidenced in their congruent voting pattern at global forums such as the United Nations, and other world political and financial bodies.
Moreover, BRICS+ has proved that it is not going to be an exclusive club of big emerging markets and energy behemoths alone. By including Ethiopia, the IMF-debt laden Argentina as well as the Western-sanctioned Iran among its ranks, BRICS+ has demonstrated its intention of being truly representative and a platform for both big and small countries to make their voices heard. This is a much-needed corrective to the harmful distortions that the US-led G7 has been subjecting the world to, creating neocolonial chaos and instability everywhere.
The New Development Bank, or the BRICS Bank, since its inception in 2015, has been lending at low interest rates to the world’s least developed countries, which have also been most exploited and impoverished for decades via extractive financial mechanisms benefitting the US-led G7 countries, through bodies like the World Bank and the IMF. The expanded BRICS+ will give it a wider ambit to operate with a softer touch to create a much fairer system, aimed at ‘mutually-accelerated development’, as stated in the Johannesburg Declaration of the 15th BRICS summit. As President Xi said, “You don’t create light for yourself by putting off others’ lamps.”
While the West has been busy dismissing the BRICS as a ramshackle group without a written charter, the anti-China hawks within the Indian commentariat too are missing the woods for the trees, obsessed with the border dispute, and overlooking the incalculable geoeconomic benefits of a strong BRICS+ bloc, of which India is an indispensable founding partner. However, tectonic changes are already underway to facilitate the birth of a genuinely multipolar, non-hegemonic world order that privileges long-term win-win cooperation over short-term zero-sum games of power and control. (IPA Service)