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The 2023 BRICS summit unleashed a major expansion by the bloc, with five new members joining the BRICS core on January 1, 2024. However, while the geopolitical weight of the grouping has increased, its economic agenda remains vague. Some of the large emerging markets are having second thoughts about joining BRICS. After the 2023 presidential elections, Argentina declared that it would not become a member of BRICS. More fundamentally, the rift between India and China needs to be bridged in order for the bloc to gain greater prominence across the Global South. BRICS needs an ambitious trade liberalization agenda that would favor developing economies. This may become the basis for the evolution of the BRICS+ platform through multiple trajectories, including the “integration of integrations” track among regional integration blocs of which BRICS countries are members. In the longer term, the BRICS and BRICS+ formats may be complemented by a BRICS++ format, with participation of developed economies, regional blocs, and their development institutions.
The 2023 BRICS summit marked a historic and transformative moment for the bloc with a significant expansion, welcoming six new members—Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, and Iran—as part of the BRICS core from January 1, 2024. However, the summit’s declaration was somewhat understated in terms of economic ambition, falling short of expectations. Key economic priorities, such as trade liberalization among the BRICS nations and the move towards a common currency, were not prominently or decisively addressed in the final document.
So far, BRICS has created several economic mechanisms. Its main economic input has been the establishment of the New Development Bank (NDB) and the BRICS Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA).  Plans are underway to expand the NDB membership to include more developing economies and to broaden the CRA’s mandate, enhancing its support for the BRICS member countries. A notable gap, however, is the absence of a financial mechanism to facilitate payments in national currencies among the BRICS economies. Discussions about creating such a system, often referred to as “BRICS Pay”, have been ongoing since as early as 2017, but the progress has been modest. Additionally, the development of a common currency or an accounting unit for all BRICS countries has also been slow.
This article explores the trajectories of the BRICS+ evolution following the pivotal BRICS summit in South Africa in 2023. The opening section offers a concise overview of the BRICS 2023 summit and its implications. The next section examines the challenges associated with further expansion of the BRICS core, as highlighted by Argentina’s decision not to join the bloc. The subsequent section discusses a recent proposal for developing the BRICS+ format as a platform for subnational regions within the developing world. The final section contemplates the optimal scenario for the Global South and the evolution of the BRICS+ paradigm, focusing more specifically on the potential rapprochement between China and India. The article concludes that the BRICS+ platform should prioritize economic cooperation and trade openness, rather than mere expansion of its membership aimed at including countries with significant geopolitical influence.
The 2023 BRICS “expansion summit”
Impulse of Multipolarity: Outcomes of South Africa’s BRICS Summit
The concept of expanding BRICS into the BRICS+ format was initially proposed by China during its chairmanship of the organization in 2017. South Africa supported this idea in 2018. However, the development of the BRICS+ format was put on hold from 2019 to 2021. In 2022, China revived the BRICS+ initiative on a broader scale, and in 2023, South Africa took it a step further. South Africa, hosting the summit in Johannesburg, understandably prioritized the participation of African countries, thereby surpassing previous efforts to expand the BRICS+ dialogue.
The revival of the BRICS+ format was met with enthusiasm by many of the world’s largest developing countries. In 2022–2023, over 20 nations applied for membership in the bloc, including many significant regional players. At the summit, it was decided to admit six countries into the BRICS core: Argentina, Ethiopia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Iran. This expansion wave has been primarily grounded in geographical representation of the bloc across key regions of the Global South. While BRICS’s influence in international affairs is growing, reaching a consensus on key directions for further development of the bloc is likely to become more challenging.
At the summit, Brazilian President Lula da Silva emerged as the most vocal proponent of a common BRICS currency. Prior to the leaders’ meeting in South Africa, the concept of creating the R5 currency—named so because the English names of all BRICS countries’ currencies start with “R”—was already a matter of extensive discussion. The organization currently explores the idea of a single BRICS currency that would serve in three capacities: as an accounting unit, a reserve currency, and a digital currency for settlements. In the final declaration (para. 45), the BRICS leaders instructed the finance ministers and central bank governors to examine the potential of using national currencies and settlement instruments, and to report their findings at the next summit.  Such wording allows for the possibility of advancing towards a single currency during Russia’s BRICS presidency in 2024 and Brazil’s presidency in 2025.
In addition to the discussion of a single currency, the consensus achieved in Johannesburg on coordinating actions to spur economic growth in member countries might be of interest for financial markets. Nearly all BRICS members face economic challenges, with potential exception of India. However, the question remains whether BRICS can initiate coordinated anti-crisis measures akin to those of the G7 and G20. As of now, such discussions are not on the agenda.
Another critical issue is the fortification of the BRICS CRA amid escalating volatility in the exchange rates of the five member currencies, exacerbated by high interest rates in the United States. An additional pivotal avenue for the economic development of the bloc is the liberalization of economies and the reduction of mutual trade barriers, which could lead to the establishment of a platform among the BRICS regional trade arrangements.  However, there remains a shortage of specific initiatives that could have substantial impact on the countries of the bloc and the global economy at large.
The BRICS communication policy is also important for markets: a clear and persuasive appeal to the broader population of the Global South countries is essential, along with a well-considered and credible communication strategy targeting financial markets. This requires that both the summit and its final document provide some form of forward guidance about future initiatives to bolster economic cooperation and coordinate economic policies. It is important that the New Development Bank, expected to assume an increasingly significant role in the economic agenda of the bloc’s summits, is also involved in harmonizing these communications.
In 2024, Russia takes over the BRICS chairmanship, and it is likely that discussions on the use of national currencies for mutual payments and the establishment of a single currency will persist, albeit primarily at the level of expert analysis. Building interactions between the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) may also become a focal point. It is premature to anticipate significant market impacts stemming from BRICS summits. Decisions on a common currency and the economic specifics of initiatives to liberalize markets in the BRICS+ format might not materialize until the bloc’s summit in Brazil in 2025. Moreover, developments after the summit, particularly Argentina’s hesitation to join the BRICS bloc, raise new questions about the future trajectory of the BRICS+ platform.
The Argentina debacle for BRICS+
The victory of Javier Milei in Argentina’s presidential election on November 19, 2023, was set to significantly influence the economic trajectory of the Global South, its regional integration efforts (particularly within MERCOSUR and UNASUR), and the ongoing expansion process of BRICS. Milei’s chief economic advisor, Diana Mondino, ruled out the possibility of Argentina joining the BRICS group,  a stance that should prompt introspection among policymakers in the developing world. A critical issue for the Global South is that BRICS/BRICS+ has yet to make adequate strides towards economic integration and the establishment of economic policy instruments capable of providing financial support to developing economies. For BRICS to emerge as a viable economic alternative to the existing order, it must place a much greater emphasis on the economic cooperation agenda.
The pivotal factors influencing Argentina’s presidential election results were substantial macroeconomic imbalances, particularly the extremely high inflation rate of 142.7 percent year-over-year (as of October 2023) and the substantial debt burden, which was nearly 90 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as indicated by the general government gross debt to GDP ratio.  With inflation rates soaring, the poverty rate rose to over 40 percent in the first half of 2023, a significant increase from percent in the previous year’s corresponding period. Although Argentina’s economic struggles were well-documented, the assistance provided by BRICS economies in recent years was either lacking or delayed. It appears that the economic stabilization measures anticipated under Milei's administration will involve reductions in public expenditure and limitations on the expansion of monetary aggregates, primarily supported by the United States and Bretton Woods institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.
The outcome of presidential elections in Argentina and the resulting shift in its relations with BRICS represent a setback to the BRICS+ expansion, particularly in Latin America where Argentina, alongside Brazil, is a pivotal force within the MERCOSUR regional integration bloc.  This development not only adversely affects regional integration but also poses challenges to BRICS’s ambitions to advance dedollarization across the Global South, especially in South America. Evidently, the events in Argentina send a signal to the BRICS bloc to refocus its cooperation efforts on the economic domain. To offer enhanced opportunities for developing countries to stabilize their economies and emerge as modernization success stories, BRICS needs to:
- Develop a roadmap for trade liberalization within the diverse regions of BRICS+, paying special attention to collaboration among the regional integration blocks of the Global South;
- Enhance the capacities of the BRICS CRA to provide preemptive crisis prevention and postcrisis resolution assistance to BRICS+ economies;
- Augment the reserve capabilities of BRICS CRA, establishing a framework for regional financing arrangements in which BRICS+ economies participate;
- Form a platform for regional development banks of BRICS+ economies—in conjunction with the NDB—to actively finance priority projects throughout the Global South; 
- Strengthen the coordination of economic policies within BRICS+, encompassing both macroeconomic strategies and structural measures that promote growth.
Given the magnitude of economic challenges confronting developing economies, there may also be a strong argument for establishing additional safeguards across the Global South through the creation of coordination mechanisms among the largest stabilization funds and Sovereign Wealth Funds of the BRICS+ economies. To date, BRICS has made only modest progress in establishing a foundation for enhanced economic cooperation throughout the developing world. The establishment of the New Development Bank, although significant, cannot single-handedly tackle the myriad of challenges faced by the Global South, particularly in achieving macroeconomic stability.
BRICS in Global Financial System: The Need to Level the Playing Field
In their pursuit of economic cooperation, the BRICS nations have, to a large extent, either emulated the Bretton Woods system by establishing an equivalent of the World Bank in the form of NDB or have been predominantly reactive to the limitations imposed by the developed world. Instead, what BRICS needs is a proactive economic agenda that fosters substantial opportunities for developing economies to widen trade and investment, as well as to secure financial support and policy guidance. The setback of Argentina’s current non-participation in the BRICS expansion serves as a warning for the Global South. The emphasis should shift from an overzealous approach to geopolitical expansion to a more concentrated and pragmatic economic collaboration within the BRICS+ framework.
A new dimension of BRICS+
New Argentinean authorities’ declarations concerning the country’s intentions to forgo the invitation to BRICS may have caused surprise throughout the Global South. However, this incident has revealed a potential new facet to the BRICS+ format that could create fresh avenues for the South–South cooperation. This novel approach for BRICS+ was proposed by officials from Argentina’s southernmost region, Tierra del Fuego. Notably, Andrés Dachary, the region’s Secretary of External Relations, expressed willingness for Tierra del Fuego to integrate into the BRICS+ cooperative framework, that would bring together various regions from BRICS+ countries. Such an initiative could provide a significant momentum to refining the BRICS+ concept into a more versatile platform, offering participants a range of options for economic cooperation.
Notably, Tierra del Fuego is not seeking membership in the BRICS core in lieu of Argentina, a notion incorrectly suggested by some media outlets. The official communication referred to seeking engagement for this region the economic cooperation platform of BRICS+. Tierra del Fuego authorities emphasized the practical benefits of establishing connections with BRICS+, a consortium representing 25 percent of the global GDP —a figure expected to rise with the recent expansion. Their declaration was essentially an appeal to “create a network of regions” within the BRICS+ framework, positioning Tierra del Fuego as a participant in such a collaborative network. 
Andrés Dachary’s proposal marks a significant step in refining the BRICS+ concept, which still requires clarification and further scholarly and practical development. In early 2017, when the author of this article first advanced the concept of BRICS+, it was envisioned as a platform to foster cooperation among regional integration blocs that included BRICS nations as members.  Following the expansion of the BRICS core, as announced at the summit in South Africa in August 2023, the term BRICS+ began to be intermittently applied to this broader set of BRICS economies. Dachary’s proposal could potentially redirect the BRICS+ concept towards creating a multifaceted platform for economic cooperation that encompasses not only countries but also regions and regional blocs. Indeed, a municipal BRICS+ forum has been conducted in Russia over the past several years. It brought together regional authorities and business sector representatives from the developing world. The most recent forum took place in St. Petersburg on November 9–10, 2023.  This indicates that a groundwork is already laid for deliberations on future approaches to economic cooperation among the subnational regions of the BRICS+ community.
Several important observations arise from BRICS’s response to events in Argentina. Foremost, the BRICS nations respect the decision of the Argentinean electorate and maintain their willingness to strengthen ties with this key Latin American economy.  The Argentina case raises questions about whether expanding the BRICS core was the optimal path for the group’s evolution, as opposed to broadening the BRICS+ framework and making it a more adaptable mechanism for engagement with a diverse array of economic players and communities throughout the Global South.  A prior, more concerted effort to develop the various aspects of the BRICS+ initiative could have provided greater opportunities for subnational groups, supranational regional entities, and their development institutions to engage in extensive South–South cooperation.  In any case, Tierra del Fuego’s proposal should be seen as a chance to further develop the BRICS+ concept into an economic cooperation platform that unites regional blocs and subnational areas/municipalities from the Global South.
Notably, the declaration by Tierra del Fuego carries symbolic weight, reflecting the reach and inclusivity of BRICS+ across the Global South to its furthest extents. Tierra del Fuego, as Argentina’s southernmost region and Latin America’s extreme tip, is often poetically termed “el fin del mundo” or “the edge of the world”. The fact that initiatives for BRICS+ growth emanate from such remote regions is promising. However, the future of BRICS and the efficacy of constructing collaborative platforms within the developing world will largely hinge on improved relations between its principal economies, particularly India and China.
Looking into the future: the best case for BRICS+
In recent times, international economic discussions have often highlighted China’s economic challenges and India’s rising prominence as the Global South's major growth driver. Mainstream media, scholars, fund managers, and corporate leaders are increasingly advocating for the reallocation of financial investments from China to India.  India’s successful G20 chairmanship has further sparked debates on a potential significant shift within the Global South, positioning India at the forefront of both economic growth and global issue resolution. An economic ascent on India would undoubtedly benefit the Global South. Yet, the question remains: could this trajectory be optimized? In a world frequently driven by “zero-sum” thinking, is there room for more “win-win” scenarios? Specifically, might there be an opportunity for enhancing the Sino- Indian economic relationship, thereby elevating global wealth creation to new heights?
Indeed, there are compelling arguments for why enhanced economic cooperation between China and India could represent the best-case scenario for the growth dynamics of the Global South. These two nations constitute nearly a third of the world population, and any shifts in their welfare dynamics could significantly influence global poverty reduction, environmental sustainability, and other pressing international concerns. It could be argued that, from an “allocative efficiency”  perspective, it would be more beneficial for global welfare if economic growth were focused in densely populated areas with substantial potential for catch-up development, as seen in both China and India. Despite the well-publicized differences and tensions between them, these two rising powers have much in common on the global stage. Several collaborative initiatives within the BRICS framework could further enhance Sino-Indian economic cooperation, including:
- The BRICS New Development Bank, a joint development bank; 
- BRICS+, a unified platform for forming alliances with third parties;
- The CRA, a body for coordinating macroeconomic policies and crisis management;
- Synchronized efforts in international economic organizations such as the IMF.
The trade relationship between China and India has been on the rise over the past several years, culminating in a record high of over USD 135 billion in 2022.  However, this figure could potentially be far more significant if projections based on the gravity model hold true. Notably, China’s trade with Russia is projected to surpass USD 200 billion in 2023, despite India having a larger GDP than Russia.  Meanwhile, the trade turnover between the United States and India is several times higher than that between China and India, despite India’s shared border with, and geographical proximity to, China. The potential for enhancing Sino-Indian trade is further amplified by the complementary nature of their trade patterns: China primarily exports manufactured goods, while India’s exports to China are largely comprised of primary and semi-finished products, with the potential to expand into the services sector.
In the investment domain, a crucial aspect of the India–China partnership lies in the connectivity track. This approach entails aligning mutual economic trade with enhanced transportation connectivity, which would benefit not only India and China, but also intermediate economies such as Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, and Central Asian nations. These predominantly landlocked economies would greatly prosper from improved connectivity with their neighboring countries. Similar to trade, there is a noteworthy complementarity between China’s and India’s connectivity frameworks. China primarily focuses on East–West transportation corridors in Eurasia, whereas India emphasizes the North–South axis. The China–India border, spanning nearly 3500 kilometers, is India’s second longest land border, accentuating the potential for connectivity with neighboring countries such as Nepal and Bangladesh. Consequently, the China–India economic partnership could pave the way for catch-up growth in the developing world, advancing poverty reduction and expanding opportunities for connectivity projects.
The India–China partnership has the potential to significantly reshape global economic alliances. At the global level, this partnership, alongside regional Indo-Pacific Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) economic alliance, could foster a broader QUAD that unites the United States and the European Union from the Global North with China and India from the Global South. Beyond the expanded scope of the BRICS/BRICS+ partnership, there is also greater potential for pan-Asian integration initiatives and the strengthening of Global South platforms within key international forums,  such as the G20.  Given the pivotal nature of the China–India relations for the economic prosperity of the Global South, it is essential to establish mechanisms that will sustain and enhance China–India economic ties within the wider context of cooperation among developing economies. Importantly, there is a significant degree of complementarity in economic alliances that China and India could jointly cultivate on the international stage. India could emerge as a vital gateway for the Global South to engage with developed economies, whereas China might advance its BRICS+ platforms, broadening the scope for South–South economic cooperation.
An enhancement in bilateral economic cooperation between China and India could lead to significant gains in the economic performance of the global economy and the Global South, specifically:
- A more inclusive and open model of the North–South relations, surpassing the outcomes of China and India operating independently;
- A substantial upgrade of BRICS that could help effectively overcome the principal hurdle impeding its progress;
- The introduction of a BRICS++ paradigm, endorsed by both India and China, which fosters collaboration with advanced economies and their development institutions, laying the groundwork for a more enduring globalization effort;
- A reorientation of mutual investment flows towards the Global South.
The question remains, however, as to how this cooperative framework in China– India economic relations will unfold, given the geopolitical tensions between these two major players in the developing world. One scenario envisages the Global South rising economically and politically on the global stage, with the increasing economic potential from mutual cooperation beginning to alter the “prisoner’s dilemma” matrix in which China and India are currently locked. It is anticipated that the advantages of economic cooperation will surpass the fleeting benefits of contention in bilateral ties.
Considering the mentioned factors, several priority initiatives that China and India could promptly undertake include:
- Aligning their economic development strategies towards the Global South, with particular attention to the Sustainable Development Goals;
- Setting an ambitious goal to expand bilateral trade;
- Synchronizing China’s Belt and Road Initiative with India’s connectivity projects;
- Creating a joint roadmap for trade liberalization;
- Establishing a bilateral portfolio of “priority investment projects” under the oversight of the NDB; 
- Providing joint support to the least developed economies, particularly in Africa;
- Formulating contingency plans for mutual stabilization, anticrisis measures, and trade liberalization targeting the Global South and the broader global economy.
In essence, the rise of a robust China–India economic partnership could be the most significant wealth-enhancing transformation in the global economy.  Within the Global South, such a partnership is poised to be the optimal scenario, fostering increased South–South trade and investment flows and enabling developing economies to hasten their catch-up growth relative to developed nations. The high degree of complementarity between China and India in trade, investment, and economic partnerships offers a considerable opportunity for this partnership to benefit the Global South.
The ultimate aim of BRICS is to establish platforms for economic cooperation among developing nations, rather than to weaken any economy. The existing BRICS and BRICS+ frameworks could eventually be augmented by a BRICS++ format that would potentially welcome the involvement of developed economies, regional blocs, and their respective development institutions. BRICS, as envisaged in this article, should evolve into a broad and transparent platform in the global economy, laying the groundwork for a revitalized and more sustainable approach to globalization. Over time, this platform could come to include the Bretton Woods institutions and other pivotal entities from the Western world.
The main challenges for the BRICS coalition stem from the absence of ambitious economic agenda. To date, BRICS’s momentum on the global stage has been largely political and geopolitical, as evidenced by the growing number of developing countries eager to join the bloc. Such expansion, however, complicates achieving a consensus, which is crucial for making decisions about economic cooperation. These decisions relate not only to financial aspects concerning common payment systems and the potential for a common currency or accounting unit, but also to trade liberalization among the BRICS economies and, more broadly, across the economies of the Global South. BRICS requires a bold trade liberalization agenda that benefits developing economies. Such an agenda could lay the foundation for the progression of the BRICS+ platform along various paths, including the “integration of integrations” strategy among regional integration blocs that count BRICS nations as members.
First published in the Pathways to Peace and Security Journal.
Lissovolik Y. BRICS Plus following the 2023 “expansion summit” // Pathways to Peace and Security. 2023. No 2 (65). P. 42-52. https://doi.org/10.20542/2307-1494-2023-2-42-52
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16. Allocative efficiency is a state of economy characterized by an efficient market where all goods and services meet the needs and wants of society.
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23. Resolving the bilateral China–India tensions is not the only problem of the South-South agenda—there is a number of factors that need to be addressed to boost economic cooperation across the Global South. See Duggan N., Hooijmaaijers B., Rewizorski M., Arapova E. Introduction: The BRICS, global governance, and challenges for South–South xooperation in a post-Western world // International Political Science Review. 2022. V. 43. № 4. P. 469–480.
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