top of page

HOT TOPIC | Brics expands – what now?

After much speculation over the possible expansion of the Brics grouping, it has now admitted six new members. Three are from the Middle East (Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates); two are from Africa (Egypt and Ethiopia) and one from South America (Argentina).

Unfortunately, the enlarged Brics group is hardly representative of the United Nations’ on-going quest for world peace and adherence to fundamental human rights by all of its member countries.

Brics plus 6 – some facts

Although the eleven Brics countries now represent almost half of the world’s population and 29% of global GDP, several of the member states have deplorable human rights records. The International Criminal Court has issued a warrant of arrest for Russia’s president, Mr. Vladimir Putin, for the unlawful deportation of children, whilst the United Nations has reported that China’s government had committed abuses in the Xinjiang region that may amount to crimes against humanity. The latter follows concrete evidence of mass arbitrary detention, torture, cultural persecution and forced labour by the military dictatorship.

Much of the news and analysis on the enlargement of Brics has centred on the suggestion by Brazil’s president, Lula da Silva, that an alternative international trade and reserve currency to the US dollar should be established.

Russia has been a strong supporter of this idea, but Mr. Enoch Godongwana, South Africa’s Finance Minister, has publicly announced strong reservations over such attempts, citing the long-standing and globally entrenched position of the US dollar as a means of payment and foreign exchange reserves held by most central banks around the globe. According to Mr. Godongwana, a common currency for Brics is a non-starter and does not even feature on the current agenda of the finance ministers (of the original grouping).

Democracy status nose-dives

Arguably the biggest concern over the newcomers to the Brics block is the poor ranking for socio-political freedom of five of the six new members. According to the 2022 Democracy Index published by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), only Argentina enjoys an index score commensurate with core democratic principles (despite its status as a “flawed democracy”).

The other five are classified as authoritarian regimes, which are more often than not characterised by de facto dictatorships, widespread abuses of civil liberties, sham elections (if they take place at all), suppression of freedom of speech & the media and a judiciary that is not independent.

The inclusion of Iran could be especially problematic to Brics plus 6, as this country has actively supported Russia’s unlawful invasion of Ukraine. According to Amnesty International, evidence exists of widespread and systematic ill-treatment of people opposed to the Iranian government, including flogging, amputation and public executions. South Africa’s closer association with Iran holds the obvious danger of drawing the ire from the US, which is our biggest export market for high value added products.

Prior to the newcomers, the average Democracy Index score of Brics was 5 (out of a possible 10), which was not impressive, mainly due to Russia and China (South Africa remains the star of the show, with the highest score of all eleven members). The average score of the six new members is only 3.3, which is 34% lower.

Lack of consensus on key issues

Any plans by Brics plus 6 aimed at creating a so-called bi-polar world order (which is both a contentious and ambiguous concept), is bound to fail, due to the huge differences in economic prowess and international influence between the member countries. These are particularly relevant on issues such as support for environmental protocols; intra-Brics trade balances; trade policy (especially China’s incessant habit of “dumping”); human rights records; and open hostility over the Himalayan border between the two most influential members, India and China.

Further evidence of the nigh impossible task to achieve consensus on key issues is the fact that four of the new member states supported the 2023 UN Resolution condemning Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine. Comments by Brazil’s head of state at the August Brics summit suggest that this country could in future also oppose Russia’s war-mongering in Eastern Europe.

What’s in it for South Africa?

China’s promise at the Brics summit to import more from South Africa is as hollow as it gets, due to the country’s flagrant disregard for the rules established by the World Trade Organisation, including its subsidisation of export industries. China also has to contend with internal economic problems associated with weak balance sheets of key state-owned enterprises and the over-regulation that is inherent in central economic planning that eventually leads to inefficiencies in the allocation of resources.

One faint silver lining is the potential to expand exports to the newcomers, especially the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. The Middle East region requires vast amounts of imported food and South Africa, which is a huge net exporter of agricultural products, could benefit from further exploiting these markets. In the meantime, however, the dust will settle fast and it is business as usual.

17 views0 comments
bottom of page