Value Added Article: The Crumbling Mortar of BRICS | EPW

Relevance: GS Paper II


International Bodies

Why has this issue cropped up?

The recently held ministerial meeting in Rio de Janeiro for articulating the agenda of the forthcoming 11th BRICS Summit in November 2019 began on a note of discordance among the member countries on the issue of resolution of the Venezuelan crisis.

Brazil: the weak link of BRICS

  • Beyond the conceptual usefulness of binding the most prominent emerging economies of the world, the functional efficacy of the association of these countries has always been a matter of uncertainty given their varying fiscal and political realities.
  • What adds to the ambiguity this year is Brazil’s shifting foreign policy priorities under the current tenure of President Jair Bolsonaro.
  • The Brazilian foreign policies for almost a decade and a half now have been premised on the generic acceptance of a multipolar world. However, the new diplomacy has blatantly rejected multilateralism in favour of privileged relations with the Western nations, especially the United States (US).
  • With restricted (or no) global ambitions that are potentially aligned with this diplomatic objective, Brazil appears to be a weak link of BRICS.

Dwindling relevance of BRICS

  • Since the 2008–09 global financial crisis, there is an emerging view—predominantly from the US—that the concept of BRICS, at least from the economic standpoint, no longer holds water.
  • This view primarily rested on the back of the estimates of dwindling gross domestic product (GDP) growth rates of the member countries, especially China, which evidenced a sharp decline from double-digit growth figures to 7% or less.
  • These estimates contrasted with the projections made by Goldman Sachs—the originator of the BRICS acronym—regarding BRICS being the locomotive of global economic growth in the coming years since the 2000s.

Threat to BRICS

  • Brazil’s hobnobbing with the US should be potentially as much threatening for the sustainability of BRICS, as is Russia’s avowed commitment to strengthen the United Nation’s central role in geopolitics.
  • In both the cases, policies can be conceived under hierarchical pressure for appeasement, thereby compromising the autonomy of BRICS and/or its institutions, such as the NDB..
  • The economic disparity within the group leaves ample room for the members to be resentful of each other regarding their individual representation in BRICS institutions. For instance, China with its cash surpluses has pledged to contribute two-fifths of the NDB’s proposed Contingency Reserve Arrangement of $100 billion. In so doing it may attempt to dominate the bank in due course, and/or look for opportunities to promote yuan-denominated trade among BRICS and/or the broader developing world.


With such inherent ambivalences in the notion of BRICS as a bloc,  we can say that the concept is trapped in the pitfalls of thinking in acronyms, one that could not transcend the outdated rhetoric of “multilateralism”.


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