The international grouping known as BRICS-Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa-has maintained a generally low profile on the world scene since its founding in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008-09. But last year, the combined economic output of the five BRICS members, measured in purchasing power parity, for the first time exceeded that of the US-led G7. And this year, BRICS is poised to move to a much more powerful role in world affairs.
The current vitality of BRICS starkly highlights the failure of Washington's push to strangle Russia economically and politically in response to Moscow's 2022 invasion of Ukraine. It also, more broadly, indicates that the domination that a handful of Western nations have exercised over global affairs for 500-plus years is now giving way to a very different, much less Western-dominated world.
Three key developments underlie the current growth of the group's heft. One is the anger that nations of the Global South felt at the way Western nations monopolised access to medical supplies and key patents during the fight against Covid. This may not have manifested as much in countries like Bangladesh, but is a real trigger issue in large parts of Africa. Another is the success in last November's Brazilian elections of former president Lula da Silva, which ended the four-year rule of right-winger Jair Bolsonaro: With Lula's victory, Brazil resumed its commitment to the development-focused and South-oriented policies that have always lain at the heart of the BRICS venture.
The third root of the group's current vitality is the strong global backlash to the economic sanctions that President Biden imposed on Russia last year. Over recent decades, economic sanctions have been one of the first tools US leaders have used in response to foreign-policy challenges. In the vast majority of these cases-from the sanctions put on Cuba in 1959 through those put on Iraq in the 1990s, or those kept on Iran, Venezuela, Syria, or Afghanistan until today-these sanctions have hurt ordinary citizens very badly while entrenching the hold on power of the governments that US leaders said they wanted to reform or overthrow.
For the BRICS to remain viable and make an increasing impact, it is not necessary that its core members be close friends but that they see a common interest. Forming a coalition with Russia and China gives Global South states leverage in their dealings with the US-led West. It also helps generate a more multipolar world, long a goal of the South's middle powers.
But Brazil, India, and South Africa are taking pains to also convey the message that BRICS is not hostile to the United States. "I don't think we see BRICS as being pro-Russia or anti-Western. I think that would be extremely wrong" said Naledi Pandor, South African foreign minister. Brazil's Lula has greatly appreciated the support from the Biden administration on strengthening democracy at home.
The founding impetus for the BRICS grouping was always to build economic coordination among its members. That impetus came into full play after Washington's broad 2022 expansion of sanctions against Russia. But China has also been eager for some years to have its BRICS partners back up the increasingly successful political diplomacy it has pursued in several parts of the world. Back in March, China achieved a huge diplomatic coup when it unveiled a rapprochement between longtime US ally Saudi Arabia and US target Iran that it had been quietly working on for many months. That breakthrough has already resulted in some valuable steps toward de-escalation in West Asia (the Middle East). It also drew those two countries and the United Arab Emirates, a key Saudi ally, more closely toward the non-US trading system being established by BRICS.
It is likely that these 3 countries (Saudi Arabia, Iran and UAE) may receive the nod next week to be admitted as the first 3 new members of BRICS, after more than 20 countries applied, including Bangladesh. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will be at The BRICS Summit of heads of state, to be held at the Sandton Convention Centre (SCC) in Johannesburg, Gauteng between 22-24 August 2023. The theme for this year is "BRICS and Africa: Partnership for Mutually Accelerated Growth, Sustainable Development, and Inclusive Multilateralism".
Although their membership bid is likely to be put on hold, it is important to remember that together with Uruguay and UAE, Bangladesh was recently inducted into the New Development Bank, the bloc's answer to a World Bank-type lender (also known as BRICS Bank). The potential entry of Bangladesh into BRICS proper at a later date could have far-reaching geopolitical implications, challenging the long-standing dominance of Western powers and ushering in a more diverse and multipolar world order.
By welcoming a second member from the South Asian region, BRICS would strengthen its collective influence, fortify its legitimacy, and expand its perspectives. This heightened diversity of voices within BRICS holds power to shatter the monopoly of Western powers over global discourse, paving the way for a new era where a broad spectrum of perspectives shapes global narratives.
BRICS is steadfast in its mission to establish itself as a formidable alternative platform to Western-dominated institutions like the IMF and the World Bank. With Bangladesh joining the ranks, the alliance's alternative platform would be further fortified, signalling a resounding call for reforms in global governance.
The collective influence of BRICS would mount, challenging Western dominance and prompting global decisions to increasingly incorporate the perspectives and priorities of emerging powers such as Bangladesh. This shift would foster a more balanced, inclusive, and representative approach to forging global policies and setting agendas.
Furthermore, the inclusion of Bangladesh in BRICS would reverberate through the power dynamics within South Asia, empowering regional autonomy and assertiveness. By providing regional countries with an alternative platform to address their challenges, BRICS would diminish their reliance on Western-dominated institutions, granting them greater agency and the ability to confidently assert their preferences and interests.
This recalibration of regional dynamics would align harmoniously with the aspirations and needs of BRICS members, challenging the influence of Western powers and allowing for a more balanced distribution of power.
Consider the case of the NDB, established as an alternative to traditional global financial institutions dominated by the United States and the European Union. With Bangladesh joining BRICS, adding another member reinforces the alternative power structure represented by the NDB, potentially sidelining the established powers' control over shaping the bank's policies and decisions.
The addition of Bangladesh, with its large population and emerging economy, brings immense potential to the table. By actively participating in shaping BRICS' agenda and decision-making processes, Bangladesh can leverage its growth potential to influence the direction of this influential alliance. The US and EU are two major trade partners for Bangladesh. So, after joining the alliance, Bangladesh may come under pressure from the west. A significant challenge for Bangladesh would be to avoid financing any disputed, less-viable, and environmentally detrimental projects. The relationships among member states are very complicated. Bangladesh, as a neighbouring country, has to face the challenges on diplomatic relations with India and China.
The prospect of Bangladesh joining BRICS holds immense promises. Bangladesh would be significantly benefited by infrastructure development, market expansion, Technological advancements and diplomatic influence. So, Bangladesh needs to be more cautious on political and diplomatic relations among the BRICS members. Upholding the non-aligned principle of our foreign policy "friendship to all, malice to none" should be the only guiding force to move forward with BRICS nations.
There are differences on expansion within the grouping, with China pushing the hardest for enlargement with some Russian support. But India and Brazil are wary, wanting a much slower process in which expansion happens in stages and after an intermediate status of some sort being granted. Brazil's resistance to expansion comes from its desire not to dilute its influence in what it sees as a key grouping in which it has major influence. India too shares some of these concerns. South Africa would like to preserve the five current BRICS states as core members and focus more on a BRICS+ type of a format, according to a senior government official.
The BRICS group today is a powerful entity that together occupies approximately 28 percent of the world's territory and is home to 45 per cent of its population.
Together, the BRICS countries produce over 25 percent of global oil and 50 percent of the iron ore used to make steel. They also produce 40 percent of global corn and 46 per cent of global wheat. This unified strength has resulted in the growth of the BRICS countries in terms of their presence and influence.
The objective of the BRICS group is twofold: to advance the national interests of its members and to gain autonomy. In the process, it counters Western hegemony economically and politically.
New World Order
The BRICS countries are increasingly asserting themselves on the global political stage, particularly in areas such as international negotiations, peacekeeping, and conflict resolution efforts. It is important to understand that the BRICS countries are not aiming to replace the West; rather, they seek to achieve greater representation and influence in global affairs. The BRICS alliance advocates for a more equitable and inclusive global economic and political system.
One of the key areas where BRICS can make a significant impact is through joint investments in education, research and development, as well as in the sharing of knowledge and expertise. By leveraging their collective strengths, the BRICS countries have the potential to drive the transition to a more sustainable and equitable global economy. Their investments in emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, and renewable energy can position them as major drivers of global economic growth and innovation in the near future.
Moreover, the BRICS countries are working towards developing a new global model of governance that is consolidated and constructive, rather than unipolar. If the BRICS countries reach an agreement to conduct trade using a common currency, it could accelerate the process of de-dollarization. This move would not only enhance the BRICS countries' global influence but also establish them as a powerful force in global leadership. It is projected that by 2030, the BRICS countries, with their proposed enlargement, could contribute over 50% of global GDP, which would further solidify their significance on the global stage.
On the Waiting List
The issue of Bangladesh joining BRICS is nothing new. Its interest is viewed positively in at least three of the five existing members' capitals. It is already a member of the New Development Bank established in 2021, as mentioned earlier. However, the issue really came to the fore earlier in the summer after PM Hasina held a meeting with South African president Matamela Cyril Ramaposha on the sidelines of an International Labour Organisation (ILO) event in June.
After the meeting of two top leaders, foreign minister AK Abdul Momen told journalists that Bangladesh may join as a member of BRICS in August. As a current "Friend of BRICS," Bangladesh already engages in cross-border transactions with the alliance. By submitting a formal application, it aims to strengthen its partnership and cooperation with the member nations of BRICS.
While the exact economic impacts of BRICS expansion and the adoption of a new currency remain uncertain, it is evident that these developments could reshape the global economic landscape. The declining value and demand for the U.S. dollar could have long-term consequences, necessitating careful observation by international economic players.
As interest in the potential BRICS currency grows and the expansion of the alliance looms, the global economic landscape is expected to undergo significant transformations. Therefore, the decisions made during the upcoming summit will be crucial in shaping the world's future trajectory, and therefore keenly watched around the globe.
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