This week, the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa will gather in the Russian city of Ufa for the seventh annual summit of the BRICS. The BRICS have come a long way since 2001, when Goldman Sachs analyst Jim O’Neill coined the term “BRIC” to describe the four most dynamic emerging economies of the new century. With South Africa’s addition in 2011, the BRICS became a symbol of the shifting global political landscape—one in which the BRICS seek power and influence commensurate with their growing economic weight.
Here are three things you need to know about the BRICS.
1. Diverse but Cooperative
The first is that the BRICS are economically and politically diverse. The BRICS account for roughly 30 percent of global GDP, but that number masks underlying differences among the five countries. China’s economy is the biggest, totaling more than the other four countries’ combined. South Africa sits at the bottom, last year accounting for just 2 percent of the BRICS’ collective GDP.
What’s more, the gap between China and the other four is growing. The IMF projects that the Chinese economy could reach $16 trillion by 2020, double that of the other four BRICS combined. In short, the BRICS are not rising in unison. China is clearly at the front of the pack.
The BRICS also diverge politically. Brazil, India, and South Africa are liberal democracies, while China and Russia are authoritarian. Though observers have argued that these differences would prevent the BRICS from cooperating, this hasn’t entirely been the case. For all their differences, the BRICS find common ground in the principles of sovereignty and nonintervention. That’s why they unanimously condemned NATO’s intervention in Libya for overstepping its humanitarian mandate, and why Brazil, India, and South Africa have rejected Western efforts to isolate and sanction Russia for its annexation of Crimea.
2. Financial Alternatives
The second thing to know is that the BRICS have begun building new multilateral institutions, marking a departure from their informal roots. By the end of this year, the BRICS will launch the New Development Bank—a $50 billion lending platform to finance infrastructure projects in the developing world. The BRICS are also creating a $100 billion Contingency Reserve Arrangement to cushion their economies from global financial pressures. It’s no secret that the BRICS launched these initiatives out of frustration with the Bretton Woods institutions, where developing countries remain underrepresented. Due to inaction by the U.S. Congress, the International Monetary Fund has failed to implement reforms that would grant developing countries voting shares matching their economic size. But with IMF reform nowhere in sight, new BRICS organizations offer an attractive alternative to U.S.-led institutions.
3. Inclusive Multilateralism
The third thing to know is that the BRICS aren’t the only ones seeking to shape the emerging world order. Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey, and others are eager to play a more prominent role in global governance. China is extending its influence through other channels as well, such as the New Silk Road initiative and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which have overshadowed the BRICS bank. Although UN and IMF reform may be stalled, recent years have seen the proliferation of new, more inclusive multilateral arrangements that offer rising powers a seat at the table. From the Group of Twenty (G20) to the Nuclear Security Summit process, the BRICS are central members of the international institutions driving global cooperation today.