Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa BRICS Bloc Grows with U.S. Left Out

An economic bloc led by five emerging economies, including the United States' top two rivals, appears set to expand as Washington struggles to promote its global agenda beyond traditional allies and partners around the world.

The group, known by the acronym for its five core members, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS), consists of more than a quarter of the world's GDP and about 40% of the global population. Though BRICS is not a formal alliance, and significant geopolitical differences exist between members, their common interest in shoring up economic and trade mechanisms outside the Western framework has demonstrated growing appeal abroad.

In the wake of the latest BRICS summit held in Beijing in June, Argentina and Iran applied to join the organization, and the bloc's current president, Purnima Anand, told Russia media the following month that Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey were among the countries that have also expressed interest in following suit.

On Monday, Algerian special envoy Leila Zerrougui confirmed her country was the latest to formally apply for BRICS membership, according to the Algerian news portal Al Shorouq.

BRICS, leaders, pose, during, 2019, summit, Brazil
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa (L), Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (2nd L), Chinese President Xi Jinping (C), Russian President Vladimir Putin (2nd R) and then-Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro (R) wave to press before posing for a photo during the 11th BRICS Summit in Brasilia, Brazil on November 14, 2019. SERGIO LIMA/AFP/Getty Images

Speaking at the last "BRICS+" summit hosted by China, Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune argued that "the continued marginalization of developing countries, within the various institutions of global governance, constitutes a sure source of instability, inequality and development."

In addition to the need to establish a "new economic order" in line with United Nations resolution 3201 adopted in 1974, he discussed Algeria's commitment "towards building a new international order that includes our collective security based on the stability and prosperity of each of us."

Tebboune was one of 19 world leaders to participate in the expanded BRICS format, and was joined by the heads of the five BRICS members as well as of Argentina, Cambodia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Fiji, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Nigeria, Senegal, Thailand and Uzbekistan.

While the U.S. has largely dismissed concerns that BRICS could present a serious challenge to the economic might of the Group of Seven, or G7, comprised of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the U.S., intensified geopolitical and economic disputes exacerbated by Russia's war in Ukraine and ensuing Western sanctions have put BRICS in the spotlight.

This extended even to Algeria, an Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) member that serves as the third largest gas exporter to the European Union. As the EU scrambled to wean itself off of Russian energy, the North African nation has been among the alternatives being discussed, even as it continues to foster ties with Moscow and rejects adopting any punitive measures in response to the conflict in Ukraine.

Also potentially consequential is Saudi Arabia's bid to join the bloc. Weeks after OPEC+, OPEC's expanded group, decided to cut global oil output by two million barrels, fraying already strained ties between Washington and Riyadh as President Joe Biden fought to keep fuel prices down, Russian President Vladimir Putin openly backed the idea of Saudi Arabia joining BRICS.

The Russian leader noted during an October 27 event hosted by the Valdai Discussion Club that such a decision first requires "a consensus of all the BRICS countries." But he supported the admission of Saudi Arabia by noting its economic prowess.

"Saudi Arabia is a fast-growing nation, and not just because it's a leader in hydrocarbon production and oil extraction," Putin said at the time. "It's because the Crown Prince and the Saudi government have very big plans to diversify the economy, which is very important."

He also said the kingdom "deserved" to be a member of another bloc led by China and Russia, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which Iran joined as a full member during the last annual summit hosted by Uzbekistan in September.

Following Putin's comments late last month, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told a press briefing that "China actively supports the process of BRICS expansion."

He pointed out that BRICS leaders reached a consensus on expanding the group following the Beijing summit in July, and said that "after the meeting, many countries expressed the desire to join BRICS cooperation."

"China will work with other BRICS members to jointly advance the expansion process," Wang said, "so that more partners will join the BRICS family."

The Wall Street Journal then reported Sunday that Chinese President Xi Jinping was preparing to visit Saudi Arabia before the end of the year, citing people said to be familiar with preparations for the trip. The move, which would mark one of just several instances of foreign travel for Xi since the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the world in 2020, was said to take place against the backdrop of Beijing and Riyadh striving for a more multipolar world order.

The trip is tentatively set for the second week of December, the same month that the first Arab-Chinese summit is set to be held in Saudi Arabia, as announced in September by Khalil Al-Thawadi, deputy secretary-general of the Arab League, which wrapped up its first summit since the onset of the pandemic this week in Algeria.