In Focus

BRICS: A global phenomenon turned into a fad?

Negar FayaziThe grouping of Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC) was considered a significant moment in time, in which emerging economies began to make their mark on the global stage. South Africa joined this imperative bloc of emerging economies in 2010, in line with the country’s foreign policy to strengthen South-South relations and as a representative for the African continent. Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) was essentially considered a geopolitical phenomenon challenging the unipolar order, however in recent years a constant question raised is: Is BRICS still relevant today or was it just a fad and what was the point of South Africa’s inclusion in this group?

A few of the core objectives of BRICS are:

  • To promote a more legitimate international system, including supporting the reform of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).
  • To bridge the gap between developed and developing countries along with creating an effective framework for South-South cooperation.
  • To assist developing countries in gaining an advantage in trade and climate change negotiations.
  • To establish alternatives to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF). For example, establishing the New Development Bank (NDB) or commonly known as the BRICS Bank.
  • To advocate for the interests of middle powers on the global stagei.

The underlying objective for South Africa was that the African continent is advantaged by this membership and that it continues to benefit from the BRICS countries in the core areas indicated by the African Union (AU) such as: energy, information and communication technology (ICT), rail and road infrastructure, agricultural and food security, peace and securityii – which are considered significant challenges for Africa. Importantly, with BRICS and India, Brazil, South Africa (IBSA), South Africa will use both formations to promote the African agenda and also generate new trade opportunities for value-added exports and investmentiii.

Essentially, BRICS is seen as ushering in a multipolar world order, and leading towards a new economic and political paradigm. However, in reality the grouping has run into inevitable problems along with consequential disparities and leadership issues, hindering it from being a complete success. Within the bloc, Brazil, Russia and South Africa have been faced with major economic challenges along with corruption scandals within their governments, in recent years. Thus, India and China are seen as flourishing while the others are seen as straggling behind. China’s dominance in BRICS is also seen by some as an inhibiting factor in terms of the sustainability of the grouping. It is the second largest economy worldwide, therefore without China BRICS will not surviveiv. In addition, due to the rise of China and it being a major investor in Africa, often civil society presume BRICS only concerns China and most often individuals are unaware of this grouping due to the lack of media attention, especially in South Africa. So, the question that should be raised more often is: is there more to BRICS than just the rise of China?

A few other problems should also be considered: with exception to the NDB being established (though there are challenges within the bank), the above objectives have not yet been successfully achieved, especially in terms of insisting on reform of the UNSC. They have further failed to speak with one voice on the most vital global economic and financial challenges – specifically in regards to co-ordination of monetary and fiscal policies, along with issues regarding development aidv. Most importantly, BRICS has maintained a low-profile on security issues, especially in regards to the turmoil in the Middle East. In conjunction to this, BRICS has also not attempted to form a traditional security frameworkvi.

South Africa has undoubtedly benefited from this grouping, for instance according to President Jacob Zuma trade has increased by 70 % between BRICS partners over the past couple of yearsvii. In addition, there has been increased investment from BRICS members and the financial service industry along with wholesale and retail sectors have increasingly developedviii. While South Africa is managing to attract more investment and trade, the next challenge is for the other BRICS nations to open their markets for South Africa’s goods and services as part of South Africa’s industrialisation efforts.

While BRICS has certainly become a phenomenon, promising a new global order, due to the above challenges and the nations conflicting interests at times, it is yet to be determined whether BRICS can realistically aspire to its stated objectives. Ultimately, the conclusion can be made that the future of BRICS remains uncertain in an increasingly turbulent global environment.

Ms Negar Fayazi holds a BA Hons in International Relations from the University of Pretoria and is a research assistant at the Institute for Global Dialogue (IGD) associated with the University of South Africa (UNISA). Her views do not necessarily reflect those of the IGD.

i http://www.careerride.com/view/brics-objectives-summits-need-and-disparities-19744.aspx.
ii http://www.gov.za/about-government/brics-brazil-russia-india-china-south-africa.
iii http://www.gov.za/about-government/brics-brazil-russia-india-china-south-africa.
iv https://csis-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/legacy_files/files/publication/151020_Degaut_DoBRICSMatter_Web.pdf.
v https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/07/five-questions-about-the-brics-nations/.
vi http://www.careerride.com/view/brics-objectives-summits-need-and-disparities-19744.aspx.
vii http://www.sanews.gov.za/world/trade-between-brics-countries-70.
viii http://www.nkibrics.ru/ckeditor_assets/attachments/55cca92662726921aa020000/na_puti_k_dolgosrochnoy_strategii_stran_briks_angl.pdf?1439476006.

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