BRICS is an acronym for a group of nations that have come together for political and economic cooperation. These emerging powers are Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, the last-named being the latest entry into this exclusive club, which actually started as BRIC. The foundational principles of BRICS are equality, sovereignty and pluralism in world affairs.
BRICS has varying relevance to each member of the group. Brazil wants to have an entry to the vast Asian markets, despite its geographical distance. Russia sees it as important in its long desire to counter NATO political, economic and military influence in these countries. As an emerging power, India hopes to realize its dreams of seen as a leader of the developing world. China hopes to capitalize on its growing economic might and increase its political influence in the area. Finally, South Africa would like to project itself as a gateway to Africa and the leading voice on the continent.
The relevance of BRICS also lies in its potential: 40% of the world’s population lives in these five countries, 20% of the world’s GDP comes from them, while 17% of the world’s trade cumulatively belongs to them. In other words, these countries together comprise the largest market in the world, with their combined GDP having more than tripled in the last decade.
BRICS started with high-level summit meetings to lay down the groundwork for political cooperation and mutual benefit in areas such as trade, environment, and infrastructure. The group has established useful platforms such as the BRICS Academic Forum and Business Council, as well as the New Development Bank (NDB) and the Contingency Reserve Arrangement. These bodies, although not as advanced as the IMF or World Bank, still represent a successful attempt to provide an alternative for these Western institutions.
In spite of these successes on the economic front, there have been some thorny political issues that have raised their heads in this forum. The first problem was the military confrontation between India and China on the Doklam plateau that both claim for themselves. The second problem was China’s efforts to introduce a second “BRICS plus” tier of countries allied to it and within its sphere of influence, a move that was resented by other members.
The above issues brought home the point that economic cooperation may be easier than political, and that BRICS could not be relied upon to solve all problems. Indeed, the resolve of all five members will be put to a stern test as they reconcile the group’s aims and objectives with the demands of their own national agendas.
To remain relevant in the future, the BRICS countries must make an open and honest assessment of their strengths and weaknesses. They must reinforce their commitment to the BRICS founding principles of equality, sovereignty and pluralism, if the group is to survive. Moreover, they must follow up the success of the NDB and establish more institutions of a similar nature to offer economic solutions that are different from Western ones and more suitable to their own national interests. Furthermore, they must exert more practical effort to tackle environmental issues such as climate change in their countries. There is also scope for cooperation in emerging sectors such as space, polar and ocean research. Lastly, the group must encourage and build channels of economic interaction at the citizen level, and not restrict itself to government meetings.