The Path of Choice

The current impasse over BRICS expansion is the perfect occasion to discuss the effective institutionalization of the group. In other words, make BRICS an international organization.

At the 14th BRICS Summit on June 23, hosted by China in virtual format, the group’s five countries–namely, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa–issued the Beijing Declaration, which emphasized strengthening the multilateral trading system and reforming the World Trade Organization.

Since its creation, BRICS has taken an active role in defending multilateralism and the reform of international organizations. In all declarations issued at the end of each summit, the member countries uphold the reform of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the United Nations. This is the main political agenda of the BRICS and its distinctive feature, distinguishing it from any other grouping of countries.

But the relevance of the BRICS should be considered not only from the perspective of political governance. The establishment of the New Development Bank (NDB) in 2014 evidenced the five countries’ commitment to economic and financial governance. The bank has approved more than 80 financing projects. In 2021, the United Arab Emirates and Bangladesh became members, while Egypt and Uruguay were accepted as prospective members. These facts reveal that the NDB has chosen its path.

The BRICS agenda has become wide-ranging that comprises concrete initiatives covering economic issues, peace and security, public health, cultural exchanges and sustainable development.

And each summit sees more initiative proposals. This year, issues related to the information and communications tech environment and the digital economy gained prominence, pointing to a new dynamic of action in the BRICS. Initiatives such as the Digital BRICS Forum, BRICS Forum on Development of Industrial Internet and Digital Manufacturing, BRICS Forum on Big Data for Sustainable Development, and the BRICS Startup Events can drive innovation, recover the global economy and contribute to decontaminating the digital environment.

Chinese President Xi Jinping hosts the 14th BRICS Summit via video link in Beijing, capital of China, Jun. 23, 2022. (Photo/Xinhua)

Membership expansion

However, the media and several researchers gave more attention to the potential expansion of the BRICS group this year. This is not a new topic. After all, in 2017, China had already expressed the importance of redefining the BRICS concept to include other large developing economies. China’s goal was, and continues to be, to transform the group into a more influential platform for South-South cooperation. This proposal became known as BRICS Plus. That year, no invitation was extended, nor was there any request for membership by another state. As the BRICS is not an international organization, there was (and still is) no formal membership procedure for new participants.

The proposal to expand the BRICS is understandable from both the economic and political point of view. In 2017, a World Bank study predicted that the growth of the seven largest emerging economies–Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia and Turkey–in five years’ time would surpass that of the industrialized economies of the Group of Seven (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the U.S.), benefiting other emerging markets and developing countries. Is this prediction still valid in the current context after two years of pandemic, increased protectionism in international trade, and the conflict between Russia and Ukraine?

It is very likely that among the 10 leading countries, emerging economies occupy five or six positions, with China topping the list by 2030 given most existing studies suggest China can continue to sustain robust growth averaging around 5 percent a year or higher to said year. Analysts consider that countries’ share of global GDP should go hand in hand with their percentage of world population. The BRICS accounts for 42 percent of the world’s population, with a GDP of $24 trillion in 2021, corresponding to 26 percent of global GDP. Today, any international decision taken without the participation of the BRICS would exclude almost half of the world’s population.

These numbers show that the BRICS’ is an essential and legitimate voice to address all issues with a global impact. Including new members will increase the group’s economic relevance and, above all, its legitimacy in defending the reform of the international order. So, does it make sense to talk about expanding the BRICS? Now, more than never.

Products are displayed at the commodity service center for products of the BRICS countries in Xiamen City, southeast China’s Fujian Province, Jun. 23, 2022. (Photo/Xinhua)

The group as of June 27 had received two membership requests, from Argentina and Iran. The request I will focus on here was that from Argentina, which had attended this year’s summit by China’s invitation. Argentinian President Alberto Fernández was clear: “We aspire to be full members of this group of nations.” Brazil has reacted with caution to the proposal to expand the group and advocates that BRICS countries should first discuss the criteria for the admission of new members.

I believe that Argentina’s entry into the BRICS will strengthen Brazil’s relationship with its neighboring country, with whom it has historical ties of friendship and cooperation, and will give a new dynamic to the foreign policy of both countries in the South American region. We cannot forget that China, Russia and India are on the same continent, and the BRICS has been a vector for dialogue and deepening their ties.


The current impasse over BRICS expansion is the perfect occasion to discuss the effective institutionalization of the group. In other words, make BRICS an international organization.

Critics of this proposal say institutionalization will bureaucratize the BRICS countries and create additional financial expenses. They further hold the group’s informality gives it greater flexibility for cooperation among the five members.

These opinions would make sense in the early years of the BRICS when joint projects were incipient. But today, due to many initiatives still in progress or awaiting implementation, it would be desirable, at least, to establish a form of administrative coordination that could feature mechanisms for monitoring them. The BRICS does not even have an official website that any citizen of the five countries can use to access official data and information on all the initiatives, including information on the actions of the various forums leading up to the summits.

Finally, the institutionalization of the BRICS is essential not only for the good management and transparency of the group’s numerous initiatives, but it’s also fundamental to guarantee the stability and permanence of the group in a world with many challenges ahead.

The expansion of the BRICS could forge a path to balance in the international system, in addition to strengthening the reformist agenda of the international organizations and contributing to the promotion of an inclusive and democratic world order.


The author is professor of international law at FGV Law School in Rio de Janeiro, and the Faculty of Law at Fluminense Federal University, Brazil.