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BRICS countries hope opening up to new members will help increase global influence | CBC News

When the BRICS summit kicks off in Johannesburg on Tuesday, expanding the group beyond its current five members – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – will be high on the agenda.

While member countries may have different economic and political systems, more than a decade after the group's inception, they remain united by a common desire to challenge US dominance in global affairs.

Around 40 countries have expressed interest in joining, including Iran, Saudi Arabia and Argentina, according to BRICS officials.

Over the years, all the leaders of the BRICS group have been vocal about their desire for a multipolar world, but there have been internal divisions within the economic bloc and there seems to be some disagreement over how fast it should expand and which countries should be included .

“There are certain nuances among members on the issue of enlargement,” Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for the Russian Kremlin, said in a July 17 call to the media.

He said the issue will be discussed at the upcoming summit, but Russian President Vladimir Putin will not personally take part in this discussion.

Two men in suits shake hands in front of South African and Russian flags.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) shakes hands with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa during their meeting following the Russia-Africa summit July 29 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Putin will not be in Johannesburg for the summit as alleged arrests would put him at risk of war crimes in Ukraine. (Mikhail Metzel/Reuters)

Arrest warrant prevents Putin from attending

If Putin were to travel to South Africa, the country would be forced to arrest him as it is a signatory state to the International Criminal Court, which has issued an arrest warrant for Putin alleged war crimes in Ukraine.

However, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will be present.

Given Russia's financial and political isolation from the West, the country is keen to strengthen ties with countries it sees as allies, analysts say.

China is also looking forward to the reception new memberand the summit comes at a time when the world's second-largest economy is grappling with sluggish growth and its relationship with the US continues to deteriorate.

Experts say all five countries — which make up about 40 percent of the world's population — and a quarter of its GDP – want more trade and investment opportunities and a chance to expand their influence throughout the Global South.

“It's not possible to have a completely flawless relationship between these five,” said Anuradha Chenoy, associate professor of international relations at Jindal Global University in India.

“There are strategic differences… but there are also convergences.”

Despite the often tense relationship between China and India, which at times has had a negative impact a 3,500 kilometers On the disputed stretch of border, all countries have common goals, including reducing the US dollar's dominance in world markets, Chenoy said via Zoom from her home in Delhi.

changing goals

The reform of international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund was one of the main goals of the BRICS group.

Russia initiated the group and hosted the first summit in 2009, which was attended by leaders from China, Brazil and India. South Africa did not join until the following year. At the end of the inaugural summit, the group released one opinion calls for a “greater voice and representation in international financial institutions”.

But since then, the BRICS have evolved from a primarily economic group to a geopolitical group, says Ana Saggioro Garcia, assistant professor of international relations and coordinator of the BRICS Policy Center in Rio De Janeiro.

She says the transition has been accelerated by strained China-US relations and Russia's war in Ukraine.

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“BRICS has become a political coalition centered on challenging unipolarity or Western hegemony,” Garcia said via WhatsApp on the way to a flight to Johannesburg.

In Johannesburg, in addition to the main summit, she will attend a series of meetings and presentations and present research on Chinese investments in Brazil and South Africa.

BRICS bank struggles

Garcia says the BRICS group has repeatedly attempted to challenge Western ideologies, which has appealed to countries that feel they have been unfairly vilified or simply ignored by the West.

Among the candidates Venezuela and Cuba are available to join the group, both face each other US sanctions, along with the African nations of Algeria and Ethiopia.

The term “BRIC” was originally coined by Jim O'Neill, an economist at Goldman Sachs, who used the word in 2001 to refer to the group of emerging markets. In a recent interview with the Financial Times, He was critical of the BRICS countries, saying the bloc had “never achieved anything since they first met”.

A view of the New Development Bank logo.
The New Development Bank (NDB), headquartered in Shanghai, was founded by the BRICS countries in 2015 to challenge global financial institutions such as the World Bank. (Aly Song/Reuters)

In 2015 the group created the New Development Bank (NDB) which approved this just over $40 Billions of Canadian dollars in loans since inception – significantly less than the $95 billion The World Bank spent last year.

But the NDB, which is headquartered in Shanghai, has been struggling since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine due to sanctions against Russia more difficult and access to international capital markets is expensive.

The bulk of the loans Funds issued were in US dollars, which have appreciated against emerging market currencies. This means that countries' debts have become more expensive to pay off.

South Africa's finance minister recently told Reuters that one of the BRICS' goals is to increase lending in local currencies.

Membership helps countries domestically

But measuring the success of BRICS depends on the benchmark used, says Cristian Nitoiu, lecturer in diplomacy and international government at Loughborough University's London campus.

He says member countries may not have made much headway when it comes to creating viable new financial institutions or eroding US currency dominance, but they have been able to use the BRICS group as a tool to advance their own interests at home to advance and abroad.

“It allows these countries to say domestically that we're actually trying to build something new in the world order,” he said.

It also shows the international community that countries want to take the lead, Nitoiu said. He doubts the BRICS will expand quickly as it would undermine the prestige of belonging to an exclusive club.

Any expansion in membership would force the group to settle on a fixed identity and decide where it stands on contentious political issues, particularly the Russian war in Ukraine.

While Russia may see new BRICS members as potential allies, South Africa is likely keen to include countries that don't make the group appear as a collection of “authoritarian states,” Nitoiu said.

“South Africa sees itself as one of the largest non-Western democracies.”

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