BRICS – The Core IAS



  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to visit South Africa for the BRICS Summit to be held from August 22 to 24 in Johannesburg. 

What is BRICS?

  • In 2001, British economist Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs coined the term ‘BRIC’, standing for the initials of what he said were the four emerging economies at the time – Brazil, Russia, India, and China from an investors’ interest perspective.
  • He argued that these nations would collectively become major global economies, suggesting adjustments to global policymaking forums like the G7 to incorporate BRIC.
  • Now, BRICS includes these five economies, representing 42% of the world’s population, 30% of the world’s territory, 23% of global GDP, and around 18% of world trade, according to its website. An informal meeting of the grouping was held in 2006 among Russia, India, and China on the sidelines of the G8 Outreach Summit in Russia. The first formal meeting was in 2009, also in Russia. South Africa joined in 2010, expanding it to ‘BRICS’.

What was the rationale behind creating BRICS?

  • In the past, India and other Asian and African countries have criticised the dominance of European and Western countries at international forums and institutions, such as the United Nations. They have argued that this leads to a lack of representation from voices of the ‘Global South’, a term used to refer to countries that have not traditionally been at the centre of international agenda-setting.
  • It also came amid a solidification of the United States’ status as the sole superpower after the USSR’s collapse in 1991, and a realisation of countering its influence.
  • With the economic rise of countries such as India and China in recent decades, the creation of their own forums has been utilised as an alternative. G20 is one example, which was more expansive in its memberships as compared to the G8 grouping (later G7 after Russia was expelled over its annexation of Crimea in 2014). Another example is G77, which now has more than 130 members, largely from Africa and Asia.
  • Similarly, BRICS came about to enhance cooperation between these five countries. This includes aspects of political cooperation through meetings, and economic cooperation such as through the New Development Bank, which is meant to provide financial support to developing markets for infrastructure and other projects. 
  • But despite these shared larger goals, BRICS has also meant different things to different member countries, and even those strategic interests have evolved over the years. By now, China has gained significantly more economic heft than others in the grouping. Both China and Russia are also now viewing the West with a lot more suspicion than before, with the Ukraine War continuing in its second year and US-China ties seeing frequent roadblocks.
  • India, meanwhile, has been deepening its relations in spheres of economy and technology with the US, of late. This makes having a common policy and cooperation within the grouping difficult.
  • Notwithstanding the ambitious plans for their expansion, the SCO and BRICS are running out of their geopolitical steam as the context that brought them together at the turn of the millennium no longer exists.

BRICS agenda for 2023?

  • The chairmanship rotates among the group annually. The Chair has to set the agenda, priorities and calendar for the year. This year, the agenda of the 15th Summit is ‘BRICS in Africa: Partnership for Mutually Accelerated Growth, Sustainable Development and Inclusive Multilateralism’.
  • Notably, both China and Russia have developed a significant presence in Africa in recent years. China has made investments worth billions of dollars in various infrastructure projects, and Russia’s mercenary Wagner Group – whose troops also participated in the Ukraine War – has also made its inroads in several local conflicts.
  • Further, in July, a South African diplomat said that more than twenty countries have formally expressed an interest in joining the grouping, including Saudi Arabia and Iran. A Bloomberg report said that the other countries that have expressed interest in joining include Argentina, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Egypt, Bahrain and Indonesia. 
  • For India, the platform could be a means of establishing its larger efforts to represent the Global South. It could also be a moment where the Summit could move things along from a diplomatic perspective.