Putting an end to all speculations and discussions, Bangladesh officially expressed its interest in getting membership in the BRICS on June 14, 2023. The request to join the group of the world’s fastest-rising economies came following a meeting in Geneva between Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and South African President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa. The next summit of BRICS in August in South Africa will surely address Bangladesh’s membership request — more specifically the horizons of BRICS+. This conversation is the need of the hour for BRICS as the world economy is hedging towards detox from the Dollar hegemony of the West. Under such changing circumstances and quick shifts of alliances, is it costly for Bangladesh to be a BRICS member or is it a bargain well struck?
The acronym BRICS stands for Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa — an informal group of states turned geopolitical bloc that wanted to promote peace and development for the developing countries, from the developing economies. The epiphany of this group was first realized by economist Jim O’Neil in 2001 who came up with the term “BRIC” (excluding South Africa) to recognize these emerging market economies and their potentiality.
Eight years after the BRICS originated in 2009 proved O’Neil was right as today the combined GDP of the BRICS has surpassed that of the G7, a coalition of the greatest powers of the world—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, additionally European Union. Not only that, currently 18 percent of global trade is under BRICS and it is also expected that by 2030, 50 percent of world GDP will be in the name of this bloc.
So, the question of why Bangladesh decided to join BRICS doesn’t leave much to the imagination. The hallmarks of BRICS speak for themselves for that answer but how Bangladesh can utilize this opportunity is rather the more interesting conversation.
Bangladesh announced its Indo-Pacific outlook last April which clearly conveys Bangladesh’s primary goal in its international endeavors — expanding its economic borders and strengthening its infrastructure development to sustain and complement those economic ambitions. BRICS can be the station for the country to realize these objectives by building relationships in this multilateral platform.
Around 20 countries including Algeria, Argentina, Egypt, Iran, Mexico, Turkey, and some African nation wants to join BRICS at the next summit. The bloc has even managed to garner the interest of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, two of the GCC countries, in its basket. For Bangladesh, this is a monumental chance to build partnerships with countries from different parts of the world that boast of diverse cultures, strong economies, and rich resources.
Bangladesh needs a relationship with the GCC countries for its growing energy needs and BRICS can be the gateway for that. Based on the MoU signed by GCC and Bangladesh last year, Dhaka can hope for its much-needed energy cooperation and investment in economic zones from GCC while it can help ensure food security for GCC countries through its seafood and vegetable export. Bangladesh’s export basket will get a big boost by including GCC countries as destinations for its homegrown foods.
As Saudi Arabia and UAE have already shown interest to engage in more flattering bilateral relations with Bangladesh, the admission of these three countries into BRICS will be a very important investment for Bangladesh in advancing its Muslim allies in the current world.
Bangladesh can also be a part of history with BRICS’s alleged attempts at “global economic decentralization” – the establishment of BRICS’s own currency. The world is steadily moving towards de-dollarization. The sanctions by the West on Russia and their dire impact on economies all over the world have mainly encouraged this movement.
India’s new Foreign Trade Policy vouches for international trade settlements in rupees. This comes at a time when Iraq has banned U.S. dollar transactions in the country, Egypt is to settle trade with China, Russia, and India with the native currencies of these nations and even France has paid with Chinese Yuan for its LNG deal with China. Bangladesh has also boarded this train by paying a nuclear plant loan to Russia in the Chinese yuan. The world has already seen the advantage of a single currency in the EU, so if and when BRICS attempts the same, Bangladesh gets to be a part of that benefit — imperative for its developing economy.
Another shining beacon of BRICS is its New Development Bank (NDB). Bangladesh has mostly maintained friendly relations with BRICS giants China and India which might have availed the country the first seat to external membership of NDB. The country can avail $1 billion a year according to NDB and Bangladesh has already set eyes on that fund for three different developmental projects. But NDB’s loan is only the front of the page. On the back is the need to create rapport with China and Russia.
To execute the “Vision 2041” of Bangladesh — eradicating extreme poverty and achieving the status of an “Upper Middle-Income Country” (UMIC) by 2030, Bangladesh needs allies that will help without conditionality like the US and Europe. China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), launched in 2016, has already approved Bangladesh for more than $2.3 billion in loans, including 10 approved AIIB loans for infrastructure projects, and four COVID-19-related response programs.
West-led institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund aren’t enough for Bangladesh anymore. The gap can be filled with multilateral and bilateral donors like China, Russia, NDB, AIIB, and now BRICS especially accounting for Bangladesh’s reality that it will soon cross its status as an LDC country and external funds for developmental challenges that precede goals of poverty alleviation will be harder to accumulate.
Lastly, Bangladesh has been part of a series of underwhelming multilateral platforms such as SAARC and BIMSTEC. But finally, BRICS might become the platform for Bangladesh’s global expression which has been slowly building with its economic prosperity and geopolitical importance.
All these are good dreams to dream. Not necessarily, BRICS will materialize any differently than platforms like the United Nations where the P-5 decide the fate of others. China and India’s rivalry can also rip this bloc apart. Remembering this, Bangladesh should take cautious steps. Balancing alliances and “malice to none” has always been the game-settling policy of Bangladesh. The decision to join BRICS will clearly satisfy its endeavor for expanding its economic borders and fulfilling its economic ambitions.
[Photo by Vladeem, via Wikimedia Commons]
*Sadia Aktar Korobi is a master’s student of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.