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"BRICS Plus" - Brief analysis Latin America

by Jan Woischnik, Christian Fritzemeier
While the BRICS summit in Johannesburg and the expansion of the alliance that took place at the summit generated little media coverage in Mexico, Central America, the Andean states and Uruguay, the event was followed with greater interest in the member country Brazil, as well as in Chile. In the left-wing authoritarian states of Bolivia and Venezuela, the BRICS expansion also received a great deal of official attention, as the heads of state of both countries travelled to Johannesburg as observers or joined in via video message, reaffirming their interest in becoming members themselves. Argentina's potential membership of BRICS+ has become a topic of discussion in the presidential election campaign, with the country on the Rio de la Plata now debating the pros and cons of joining at the turn of the year.

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Venezuela and Bolivia clearly see the format as an anti-Western counter-model, but Brazil and Chile also share this view. In most countries in the region, however, the BRICS are seen as a loose association of very heterogeneous states for the purpose of expanding economic cooperation and trade as well as promoting investment. A geopolitical shift in power is often only seen by experts from the field of political science. In some Latin American countries, such as Argentina, Chile or Costa Rica, there is no uniform assessment. What is striking is the great interest in the BRICS' plans to replace the US dollar as the world's reserve currency and in the prospects for alternative sources of financing through the New Development Bank.  


Future prospects

In Latin America, an increase in the international weight of the BRICS+ is predominantly assumed due to their increased size and economic power. The statement that the BRICS+ are more important than the G7 is widely mentioned in Latin American debates. However, observers criticise the heterogeneity of the grouping. 

Unsurprisingly, Bolivia and Venezuela are actively seeking membership and are trying to attract the interest of the BRICS countries through their wealth of raw materials. Honduras is also showing ambitions to join the format. Although invited, Colombia has not yet submitted its own application to join the BRICS states, although it is not averse to further rapprochement for economic reasons. This also applies to most other countries in the region that want to pragmatically utilise economic development opportunities with the BRICS+ countries. The New Development Bank in particular is seen as an opportunity to gain a degree of independence from the traditional institutions of the IMF and World Bank as well as from the US dollar.

This strategic ambivalence in dealing with the BRICS+, openness to cooperation on economic issues and the use of new institutions without their own membership, characterises the approach of the majority of Latin American countries. In general, China is already the most important trading partner and investor in the region, meaning that stronger economic relations with the BRICS+ are seen as an opportunity for their own growth. A different form of pragmatism can be seen in Mexico, which sees itself as a beneficiary of the US nearshoring strategy. However, an open break with the BRICS+ countries does not appear to be the intention of the region's second-largest economy. However, it is questionable whether there is any interest at all, especially on the Chinese side, in a further expansion of the format to include Latin American countries, as each new member in this intergovernmental body also means an additional voting right, which makes it considerably more difficult to reach a consensus. Even with eleven member states, the decision-making process within BRICS+ is likely to become considerably more complicated.


Conclusions - also for Europe

The outcome of the XV BRICS summit in Johannesburg represents a severe setback both for Brazil's claim to be an internationally influential player and for the role of the Latin American region as a whole in this new format of emerging economies. President Lula has agreed to the admission of the new BRICS member states in the vague hope that the BRICS partners will support Brazil's own ambitions for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, which reduces Brazil's own influence in the grouping. The new accession candidates include only one Latin American country, Argentina, which has close economic ties with Brazil through the MERCOSUR agreement, but whose accession is - as mentioned at the beginning - highly questionable due to the unclear political situation in the country. The inclusion of Argentina would significantly reduce the relative importance of Latin America within the BRICS+. Only the former Brazilian president Dilma Roussef, chairwoman of the New Development Bank and a confidante of Lula, could provide an opportunity to continue to play an important role and not leave the decision-making authority entirely to China, India and Russia, at least when it comes to investment decisions and lending.

However, Brazil's failure and the resulting loss of importance for Latin America presents an opportunity for the EU to re-establish stronger political and economic ties with the region. Even if the disappointment over the sometimes slow and inadequate aid during the coronavirus pandemic still runs deep, Europe's image in the region is still largely very positive and even left-wing authoritarian regimes remain in contact with representatives of the so-called West. In many Latin American countries, large sections of the population are sceptical about China and Russia and, in particular, their social systems. Instead, good relations with European countries and the USA are favoured as long as there is no feeling of too much interference in internal affairs or perceived neo-colonial tendencies. The reservations about Iran's membership of the BRICS+, particularly in Argentina and Brazil, could also be taken as an opportunity to start discussions about how intensively Iran should be involved in a forum that offers the fundamentalist Islamic regime in Iran a platform for international valorisation.

On the part of Europe and above all the EU, however, the basic prerequisite for this would be the political will to use this momentum and strive for a closer and possibly institutionalised form of permanent cooperation with key Latin American states. An important step in this direction would be to swiftly finalise the EU-MERCOSUR agreement and, after more than twenty years of negotiations, to move away a little from the insistence on additional agreements on environmental standards, which the Latin American side perceives as a strangulation. There is reason to believe that once a possible institutionalised EU-MERCOSUR format has been established, it would be much easier to reach effective agreements on the protection of nature, the environment and resources and against deforestation and illegal logging in Latin America within the framework of this new alliance, thereby indirectly making a more effective contribution to preserving biodiversity and combating climate change.

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Dr. Jan Woischnik


Head of the Department Latin America +49 30 26996-3577 +49 30 26996-53577

Magdalena Jetschgo-Morcillo

Magdalena Jetschgo-Morcillo bild

Global Order and Inter-System Competition +49 30 26996-3866 +49 30 26996-53796


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