A series of recent events has raised concerns about the vitality of the largest group of emerging countries, commonly referred to as BRICS, which includes Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
These include Jair Bolsonaro’s recent election in Brazil, instability in international financial markets, pre–election uncertainty in India, government shutdown in the United States and, most importantly, the trade war Sino-American.
Member countries have a combined GDP of about $ 15 trillion. They represent 19.3% of the gross world product; 42.7% of the world’s population; and have accounted for more than 50% of global economic growth over the last 10 years.
Unfortunately, they seem more and more divided over a series of geopolitical and geoeconomic issues. Their own national interests seem fundamentally opposed to those of other members. As a result, the BRICS seem today to lack a “common voice” on behalf of the South, and so they can not articulate the interests of developing countries with so much persuasion.
Sino-Russian division lines
In recent years, the BRICS countries have been engaged in rather unilateral or bilateral exercises, far from the stated objectives of determining a common policy for so-called “emerging” economies.
This is due to political considerations specific to each country. For example, China and Russia have adopted common positions in the UN Security Council regarding Syria and Iran. They are also working together on a common position on Afghanistan pending the withdrawal of the United States, which runs counter to Washington’s desire to promote an Indian presence in Kabul, in order to mitigate the risk of instability in Afghanistan during the American withdrawal.
China and Russia are also expanding their relations with Pakistan, with the sorrow of India.
With regard to the BRICS in particular, China and Russia have not supported the expansion of the UN Security Council to give a seat to Brazil, India or South Africa, even if these countries are actively campaigning for such a position.
In addition, in the recent expansion of voting rights at the World Bank and the IMF, gains in voting power from China, Brazil and India have been unfavourable to other developing countries, notably Nigeria and South Africa. In addition, the BRICS did not support South Africa’s call for a third African seat on the IMF’s Executive Board. This has made Africa the most underrepresented region of the board.
More African countries
China and Russia have also formed the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), in partnership with six Central Asian republics. Created in 2001, it deals with energy and security issues and is a counterbalance to US influence in Central Asia. Similarly, South Africa, China and Russia advocate the concept of “BRICS Plus” to include more African countries in the BRICS. This seems an advantage given the economic and political influence of China and Russia.
South Africa had launched the BRICS Outreach Partnership, an inclusion channel for several African countries such as Senegal, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Angola. South Africa is therefore trying to incorporate greater pluralism within the BRICS.
India, however, seems uncomfortable with the BRICS Plus concept, fearing that such a reconfiguration would be more beneficial for Beijing than for them, given the Chinese influence in Africa?
The Silk Road and the Commercial War
The Chinese megaproject on the New Silk Road (NRS) is perhaps the most compelling force in contrast to joint BRICS initiatives. While Russia supports this project, India is fiercely opposed to it because the Sino-Pakistani economic corridor is a stimulus of 62 billion US dollars which counteracts the Indian political game to isolate Pakistan.
However, China prefers the NRS to advance its geopolitical and geoeconomic interests as it can play a leading role and exercise greater control over the Silk Road. In the BRICS partnership, China is only one of five equals; on the Silk Road, she is clearly leader.
Counter the United States
However, they are withdrawing from the multilateral governance agreements they have created. For example, they withdrew from the United Nations Conference on Migration and the UN Human Rights Council. And Washington effectively paralyses the World Trade Organization (WTO) by refusing to accept the appointment of new judges to the WTO Appellate Body.
The United States is on the road to a trade war with China, fomenting divisions between BRICS countries, while Russia is turning to China, while India and Brazil are getting closer to the United States.
Due to the trade war, the BRICS countries are now forced to take sides, either with the United States or with China, with less room for manoeuvre. According to the World Bank, a moderation in world trade will slow the rate of growth in world GDP from 4.5% in 2018 to 4.7% in 2019 and 2020.
A common voice for the South?
There is a presupposition on the domination of the West (G7) in the global economic governance that was valid at the creation of the group BRICS (2002), but which is no longer.
Brexit, Trump, populism, the slowdown of the global economy since the 2008 crisis, and the rise of the League in Italy are all phenomena that show that the domination of the West on the world economy has dimmed. So, what is the need to present a resistance to the dominant powers if they are no longer?
At the same time, half of the current world GDP growth is generated by the BRICS. If they develop better economic coordination mechanisms, they will be able to maintain a high growth rate. The current polarisation of the BRICS could significantly slow down global economic growth, with repercussions for emerging economies outside BRICS, given their integration into the global economy.