Each month, Frédéric Munier, Director of the School of Geopolitics for Business at SKEMA Business School, publishes a column in the magazine Pour l’Éco. At a time when the most recent BRICS summit resulted in a spectacular expansion to include six new countries, the group of emerging countries is asserting itself as a counterweight to the G7 countries. Or even as an adversary?
“The G7 is dead. It no longer means anything.” So said Celso Amorim, the Brazilian minister of foreign affairs, at the first BRIC Summit in 2009. The event was an endeavour by the four founding countries (Russia, Brazil, India and China), which in 2011 were joined by South Africa to become the BRICS, to get the voices of rising powers heard in what they consider to be a Western-dominated world. In August 2023, at their last summit, the BRICS announced that six new countries were to join their ranks: Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Around forty countries have made applications, the very ones that belong to the “Global South”. Should the G7 be worried?
The answer to this question is complex. Since the group was formed, the BRICS who seemed in Dilma Rousseff’s words to be “insulated from the [subprime] crisis”, have had some bitter disappointments: Chinese growth has seriously faltered, leaving the country in an unprecedented crisis, Brazil fell into a political and economic abyss in the 2010s, Russia is mired in a war against Ukraine and South Africa is no longer the powerhouse of its continent. Only India can boast ongoing economic success, with growth in excess of 7% over the last few years. The BRICS’ joint projects are for the moment limited to the creation of a development bank that sees itself as an alternative to the IMF. Although the six new members will reinforce the group’s economic weight, the cumulative GDP of the eleven countries will still lag far behind that of the G7 ($29,154bn for the “BRICS 11” vs $43,768bn for the G7 in 2022).
But the BRICS want to go further by throwing off what they view as a constraint: the use of the dollar for international transactions. They already make payments between them in yuan, which is taking shape as a challenger for the greenback. Does this mean that they want to become a rival for the G7, or even an adversary of the West, often described as “imperialist”? That is clearly the wish of China and Russia, but not the other members of the group. The reason for this is simple. The BRICS are diverse. Their interest differ, and there are tensions within the group, in particular between China and India. Consequently, rather than a stand-off against the West, most members adopt a non-alignment strategy. This lack of convergence is one of the reasons why the summit in August focused on widening the group rather than deepening it, which is as yet impossible. The BRICS should be seen not as a rival to the G7, but rather as a counterweight to it in a fragmenting world.
This article was originally published in French in Pour l’Eco.