BRICS: Six more countries to join the bloc, Bangladesh not included

BRICS logo

Six countries from three continents have been offered to join the BRICS grouping. This offer was made at the BRICS summit taking place in Johannesburg, South Africa. The countries invited to join the grouping are Saudi Arabia, Iran, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Ethiopia and Argentina.

Before the summit began in South Africa, 22 countries had applied for BRICS membership. Another 20 countries had expressed interest. Bangladesh was among the countries who had officially applied to join the grouping. However, for the time being, Bangladesh will not be able to join up with the bloc.

It has been decided that six new member states will officially join BRICS from 1 January next year. This grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa feels that these six countries are qualified to join them at the moment.

Expansion of BRICS had been one of the major topics on the agenda of the Johannesburg summit. But it was not an easy task to select new members. It took lengthy discussions and deliberations, and only then did the leaders of BRICS member state reach a consensus. Other countries who had displayed interest in joining BRICS but did not receive any offer, were Indonesia, Nigeria and Algeria.

Till yesterday, Thursday, no specific reason was given for why these countries were not extended any offer. However, after announcing the names of the new members, The South African president Cyril Ramaphosa said BRICS has "embarked on a new chapter in its efforts to build a world that is fair, a world that is just, a world that is also inclusive and prosperous."

Geopolitical importance

The population of the five BRICS member states comprises 42 per cent of the world population. The BRICS member states account for more than 25 per cent of the global GDP. So BRICS is considered a very promising grouping in economy, investment and trade considerations. However, it is not clear how far economic considerations played a role in the decision to expand the grouping.

Discussions on expanding BRICS continued till the last minute on Wednesday, as the leaders were failing to reach a consensus about the new members. All the leaders openly said they wanted an expansion of BRICS, but the differences emerged over how many countries would be included and how soon they would be given membership.

However, the door hasn't completely been shut on BRICS membership for Bangladesh. South African president Cyril Ramaphosa has said, "We have consensus on the first phase of this expansion process and other phases will follow."

While there are stark differences in the economies of the BRICS member states, the countries too have different foreign policies. That is why it had been difficult for them to come to an agreement. It took even longer to sort out the issue when Indian prime minister Narendra Modi came up with a proposal for two criteria to decide upon membership.

According to the news agency Reuters, the two conditions that Narendra Modi put forward were, none of the interested countries could be target of international sanctions and they must also have a minimum per capita GDP requirement.

No statement was made on behalf of the BRICS summit as too how far this proposal of the Indian prime minister was taken into cognizance. A decision in this regard was to be taken after the Wednesday plenary session, but an official informed Reuters that the matter was delayed after this proposal was put forward by the Indian prime minister.

There is a gaping differences in the per capital GDP of the six countries who have been accepted as BRICS members. UAE has the highest per capital GDP among them (USD 53,758 according to the World Bank's 2022 records). The lowest on the list is Ethiopia (USD 1,027 according the World Bank's 2022 records). Bangladesh had a much higher per capita GDP than Ethiopia at USD 2,688 (World Bank 2022). Indonesia's is even higher, at USD 4,788. In the meantime, according to the World Bank, India's per capita GDP is USD 2,388.

Meanwhile, Iran and Venezuela are considered to be likely targets for sanctions of the US-led western world. Iran has been invited to join BRICS.

Certain leaders of BRICS in the past had openly called for a new world order and a dollar-less financial and trade system to be built up. Brazil's president Lula had even proposed a BRICS currency. Russia and China are endeavouring to build BRICS up as a separate power, a counter to the western bloc.

China is the most influential country of the grouping. China's president Xi Jinping has said that, "the world has entered a new period of turbulence and transformation.... We should always bear in mind our founding purpose of strengthening ourselves through unity, enhance cooperation across the board, and build a high-quality partnership."

BRICS has not clarified why only six countries have been given membership. But it is assumed that geopolitical considerations have been given higher priority than economic strength or trade potential. Most of these countries have developed good ties in recent times with China and in some cases with Russia. Of the new six members, Saudi Arabia, Iran and UAE have huge oil resources.

Bangladesh did nothing other than apply

Foreign minister AK Abdul Momen in June expressed Bangladesh's interest in joining BRICS. At the time, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina met with South Africa's president Cyril Ramaphosa in Geneva. After that meeting, Bangladesh officially on 14 June submitted an application for BRICS membership.

Diplomatic sources, however, said that generally speaking it is not enough to simply submit an application to join such a forum or grouping. After all, the members must first reach a consensus before adding any new country. So other than the application, letters must be sent to the heads of state or heads of government of the member countries along with sending special emissaries to the concerned countries. But other than sending in an application in June, Bangladesh did nothing.

Sources say that BRICS had been divided over the criteria or new membership. After learning about that, Bangladesh reportedly lost hope somewhat.

However, the door hasn't completely been shut on BRICS membership for Bangladesh. South African president Cyril Ramaphosa has said, "We have consensus on the first phase of this expansion process and other phases will follow."