The 15th BRICS Summit took place in Johannesburg, South Africa, from August 22 to 24 of 2023. It happened when there is a perceived relative decline of the United States and its Atlantic allies in the face of the rise of a new hegemon in Asia: China. This international conjuncture, where we see great powers' rise and fall, has profound geopolitical implications characterised below.
The BRICS is a mechanism for political dialogue and economic concretisation founded in 2008 by Brazil, Russia, India and China due to the US financial crisis. At the beginning of the 21st century, these economies were highly dynamic, with high GDP growth rates and were the destination of a large part of foreign direct investment due to their high potential. In 2013, South Africa, which at the time was the largest economy on the African continent, joined the group. It formed a representation of the leading players from the regions of the global south, namely Asia, Africa and Latin America.
The association is an alternative grouping to the G7 (United States, United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Japan and Italy), which other nations with high economic growth rates aspired to join but which sought to distance themselves from the economic policies dictated by Washington. According to the IMF, the G7 has 29.92% of world GDP in purchasing power parity (PPP), surpassed by this new group of countries that account for 32.1% of world GDP in PPP terms.
The G7 recorded an average GDP increase of 1.5% in 2023. Simultaneously, the Global South group significantly bolstered the world's growth rate, achieving an average increase of 3% during the corresponding period. China and India lead the way as they are the fastest-growing economies in the world, and during the pandemic, they maintained exceptionally positive numbers. It is the largest association of economies on the planet. The bloc represents 40% of the world's population, with 3.2 billion people, while the G7 represents only about 10%, with 772 million people.
At the last summit in Johannesburg, the five-member group agreed to an expanded membership to include Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, adopting the name BRICS+ and reaching 11 members. The five-member group will formally incorporate these new six as of January 1, 2024. However, the geopolitical implications of this enlargement began to take shape soon after the agreement. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for example, will test its capacity for political articulation.
The agenda discussed last August in the African country included energy security from a traditional paradigm, i.e. guaranteeing the supply of hydrocarbons among the members; promoting the fight against climate change through investment in low-carbon technologies; and, inter-bloc trade in national currency, reducing transaction costs. Of the six new member countries, 3 are "Petro States". That is, most of their economy is fueled by oil. Two others are in northeastern Africa, an area of vital geostrategic importance for Western powers. Argentina is the only Latin American country to join, and this is due to its significant trade with Brazil.
Egypt strategically contains the Suez Canal and is critical in controlling global maritime trade. Its participation in the enlarged BRICS strengthens the group's influence on global trade routes and could significantly impact international trade policy and marine security decisions. Ethiopia is notable for the significant amounts of FDI it receives towards large green energy infrastructure projects.
China plays a leading role in geopolitical reconfiguration and the Global South. The New Silk Road initiative and China's trinomial approach to multilateralism (military/security, economic/commercial and political) consolidate China's influence in global decision-making. In addition, cooperation in energy, especially in hydrocarbon exploration and transportation, establishes fertile ground for deeper bilateral and multilateral relations among its members.
In conclusion, the expansion implies greater geographic and economic diversity and a significant change in geopolitical dynamics. BRICS+ is an actor that has given rise to a new scenario where the future of international relations and global politics will play out. Within the bloc's enlargement, stability in the Middle East is a priority, and the capacity to respond to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may serve as an excellent opportunity for the group to show its bargaining power and political articulation, undoubtedly led by China.