BRICS: Global Center of Gravity Shifts

As is often the case in history, the actions of a dying empire create common ground for its victims to look for alternatives, writes Vijay Prashad.

Tadesse Mesfin, Ethiopia, “Pillars of Life: Waiting,” 2018.

By Vijay Prashad
Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research

On the last day of the BRICS summit in Johannesburg, the five founding states — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — welcomed six new members: Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The BRICS partnership now encompasses 47.3 percent of the world’s population, with a combined global Gross Domestic Product — by purchasing power parity, or PPP — of 36.4 percent.

In comparison, though the G7 states (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States) account for merely 10 percent of the world’s population, their share of the global GDP — by PPP — is 30.4 percent.

In 2021, the nations that today form the expanded BRICS group were responsible for 38.3 percent of global industrial output while their G7 counterparts accounted for 30.5 percent.

All available indicators, including harvest production and the total volume of metal production, show the immense power of this new grouping. Celso Amorim, adviser to the Brazilian government and one of the architects of BRICS during his former tenure as foreign minister, said of the new development that the “world can no longer be dictated by the G7.”

[Related: SCOTT RITTER: G7 vs BRICS — Off to the Races]

Certainly, the BRICS nations, for all their internal hierarchies and challenges, now represent a larger share of the global GDP than the G7, which continues to behave as the world’s executive body.

Over 40 countries expressed an interest in joining BRICS, although only 23 applied for membership before the South Africa meeting (including seven of the 13 countries in the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC).

Indonesia, the world’s seventh largest country in terms of GDP,  by PPP, withdrew its application to BRICS at the last moment but said it would consider joining later. Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo’s comments reflect the mood of the summit: “We must reject trade discrimination. Industrial downstreaming must not be hindered. We must all continue to voice equal and inclusive cooperation.”

Abdel Hadi el-Gazzar, Egypt, “The Popular Chorus or Food or Comrades on the Theatre of Life, 1948,” post-dated 1951.

BRICS does not operate independently of new regional formations that aim to build platforms outside the grip of the West, such as the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). Instead, BRICS membership has the potential to enhance regionalism for those already within these regional fora. Both sets of interregional bodies are leaning into a historical tide supported by important data, analysed by Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research using a range of widely available and reliable global databases.

The facts are clear: the Global North’s percentage of world GDP fell from 57.3 percent in 1993 to 40.6 percent in 2022, with the U.S. percentage shrinking from 19.7 percent to only 15.6 percent of global GDP, by PPP, in the same period — despite its monopoly privilege.  In 2022, the Global South, without China, had a GDP, by PPP, greater than that of the Global North.

The West, perhaps because of its rapid relative economic decline, is struggling to maintain its hegemony by driving a New Cold War against emergent states such as China. Perhaps the single best evidence of the racial, political, military and economic plans of the Western powers can be summed up by a recent declaration of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the European Union (EU):

“NATO and the EU play complementary, coherent and mutually reinforcing roles in supporting international peace and security. We will further mobilise the combined set of instruments at our disposal, be they political, economic, or military, to pursue our common objectives to the benefit of our one billion citizens.”

Alia Ahmad, Saudi Arabia, “Hameel – Morning Rain,” 2022.

Why did BRICS welcome such a disparate group of countries, including two monarchies, into its fold? When asked to reflect on the character of the new full member states, Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said,

“What matters is not the person who governs but the importance of the country. We can’t deny the geopolitical importance of Iran and other countries that will join BRICS.”

[Related: India, a Reluctant BRICS Traveler]

This is the measure of how the founding countries made the decision to expand their alliance. At the heart of BRICS’s growth are at least three issues: control over energy supplies and pathways, control over global financial and development systems and control over institutions for peace and security.

Houshang Pezeshknia, Iran, “Khark,” 1958.

A larger BRICS has now created a formidable energy group. Iran, Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. are also members of OPEC, which, with Russia, a key member of OPEC+, now accounts for 26.3 million barrels of oil per day, just below 30 percent of global daily oil production.

Egypt, which is not an OPEC member, is nonetheless one of the largest African oil producers, with an output of 567,650 barrels per day. China’s role in brokering a deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia in April enabled the entry of both of these oil-producing countries into BRICS. The issue here is not just the production of oil, but the establishment of new global energy pathways.

The Chinese-led Belt and Road Initiative has already created a web of oil and natural gas platforms around the Global South, integrated into the expansion of Khalifa Port and natural gas facilities at Fujairah and Ruwais in the U.A.E., alongside the development of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030.

There is every expectation that the expanded BRICS will begin to coordinate its energy infrastructure outside of OPEC+, including the volumes of oil and natural gas that are drawn out of the earth.

Tensions between Russia and Saudi Arabia over oil volumes have simmered this year as Russia exceeded its quota to compensate for Western sanctions placed on it due to the war in Ukraine.

Now these two countries will have another forum, outside of OPEC+ and with China at the table, to build a common agenda on energy. Saudi Arabia plans to sell oil to China in renminbi (RMB), undermining the structure of the petrodollar system. China’s two other main oil providers, Iraq and Russia, already receive payment in RMB.

Juan Del Prete, Argentina, “The Embrace,” 1937–1944.

Both the discussions at the BRICS summit and its final communiqué focused on the need to strengthen a financial and development architecture for the world that is not governed by the triumvirate of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Wall Street and the U.S. dollar.

However, BRICS does not seek to circumvent established global trade and development institutions such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the World Bank and the IMF. For instance, BRICS reaffirmed the importance of the “rules-based multilateral trading system with the World Trade Organisation at its core” and called for “a robust Global Financial Safety Net with a quota-based and adequately resourced [IMF] at its centre.”

Its proposals do not fundamentally break with the IMF or WTO; rather, they offer a dual pathway forward: first, for BRICS to exert more control and direction over these organisations, of which they are members but have been suborned to a Western agenda, and second, for BRICS states to realise their aspirations to build their own parallel institutions (such as the New Development Bank, or NDB). Saudi Arabia’s massive investment fund is worth close to $1 trillion, which could partially resource the NDB.

BRICS’ agenda to improve “the stability, reliability and fairness of the global financial architecture” is mostly being carried forward by the “use of local currencies, alternative financial arrangements, and alternative payment systems.”

The concept of “local currencies” refers to the growing practice of states using their own currencies for cross-border trade rather than relying upon the dollar. Though approximately 150 currencies in the world are considered to be legal tender, cross-border payments almost always rely on the dollar (which, as of 2021, accounts for 40 percent of flows over the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, or SWIFT, network).

Other currencies play a limited role, with the Chinese RMB comprising 2.5 percent of cross-border payments.

However, the emergence of new global messaging platforms — such as China’s Cross-Border Payment Interbank System, India’s Unified Payments Interface and Russia’s Financial Messaging System (SPFS) — as well as regional digital currency systems promise to increase the use of alternative currencies. For instance, cryptocurrency assets briefly provided a potential avenue for new trading systems before their asset valuations declined, and the expanded BRICS recently approved the establishment of a working group to study a BRICS reference currency.

Following the expansion of BRICS, the NDB said that it will also expand its members and that, as its “General Strategy, 2022–2026” notes, 30 percent of all of its financing will be in local currencies. As part of its framework for a new development system, its president, Dilma Rousseff, said that the NDB will not follow the IMF policy of imposing conditions on borrowing countries.

“We repudiate any kind of conditionality,” Rousseff said. “Often a loan is given upon the condition that certain policies are carried out. We don’t do that. We respect the policies of each country.”

Amir H. Fallah, Iran, “I Want To Live, To Cry, To Survive, To Love, To Die,” 2023.

In their communiqué, the BRICS nations write about the importance of “comprehensive reform of the U.N., including its Security Council.”

Currently, the U.N. Security Council has 15 members, five of which are permanent —China, France, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S. There are no permanent members from Africa, Latin America, or the most populous country in the world, India.

To repair these inequities, BRICS offers its support to “the legitimate aspirations of emerging and developing countries from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, including Brazil, India, and South Africa to play a greater role in international affairs.”

The West’s refusal to allow these countries a permanent seat at the U.N. Security Council has only strengthened their commitment to the BRICS process and to enhance their role in the G20.

The entry of Ethiopia and Iran into BRICS shows how these large Global South states are reacting to the West’s sanctions policy against dozens of countries, including two founding BRICS members, China and Russia.

The Group of Friends in Defence of the U.N. Charter – Venezuela’s initiative from 2019 – brings together 20 U.N. member states that are facing the brunt of illegal U.S. sanctions, from Algeria to Zimbabwe. Many of these states attended the BRICS summit as invitees and are eager to join the expanded BRICS as full members.

We are not living in a period of revolutions. Socialists always seek to advance democratic and progressive trends. As is often the case in history, the actions of a dying empire create common ground for its victims to look for new alternatives, no matter how embryonic and contradictory they are. The diversity of support for the expansion of BRICS is an indication of the growing loss of political hegemony of imperialism.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations.  His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and, with Noam Chomsky,  The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and the Fragility of U.S. Power.

This article is from Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

12 comments for “BRICS: Global Center of Gravity Shifts

  1. LeoSun
    September 3, 2023 at 14:06

    “As is often the case in history, the actions of a dying empire create common ground for its victims to look for alternatives,” Vijay Prashad.

    For example, 1) a Department of Peace, “Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research” versus The Dept. Of Homeland $ecurity; or, 2) the Commander-N-$peech, the Keeper of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, bragging, “he’s f/amazing @ killing people!” BARACK “326 drone strikes in Pakistan, 93 in Yemen, Several in Somalia, KILLING upwards of 4,000 people,” OhBAMA!!! FOR WHAT NOBLE CAUSE?

    September 3, 2023, “Where is the effective alternative to the War Party?”

    NO DOUBT, the BRICS partnership is now, “A BIGger F/Deal,” than it initially was, i.e., “the “world can no longer be dictated by the G7.” Celso Amorim, Adviser to the Brazilian govt., an Architect of BRICS; &, a Foreign Minister. WHO in the USG, would be Amorim’s point person?

    “THIS WHOLE THING is blowing up in the face of the West. We forced Russia to pivot to Asia, as well as Brazil, India, China, South Africa and Saudi Arabia. THERE’S A WHOLE NEW WORLD BEING FORMED.” Dennis Kucinich, Congressman-17 YEARS; and, things changed, “One cannot get intimate with officials and maintain independence.” [Be ‘em] “good or bad guys. They will use, abuse and abandon, you!!!”

    “Does ‘letting go’ mean losing everything “we” have, or does it mean gaining everything “we” never had?!?” Don’t Panic. It’s Organic!!!..i.e., “Peace NOT War. MORE, Cooperativas Terra Livre,” etc.

    The world’s currency is changing. The world is changing. Biden-Harris, their Board of Executioners & Congress are NOT on board the PEACE train. Biden-Harris, et al., are on the wrong track, goin the wrong f/way. They cannot imagine a world w/o their RBO, RBIO & a world w/o war. Fugg ‘em!!!

    “BRICS’ agenda to improve “the stability, reliability and fairness of the global financial architecture” is mostly being carried forward by the “use of local currencies, alternative financial arrangements, and alternative payment systems.” The concept of “local currencies” refers to the growing practice of states using their own currencies for cross-border trade rather than relying upon the dollar.” VIJAY PRASHAD

    In sum, universal inequities Die, the USD Dives; &, other currencies Ri$e!!! Multiplying the enhancements of multiple governments “greater role in international affairs.” What a concept! Diplomacy NOT War. Willfulness NOT Force. Respect NOT Resistance. Courtesy NOT Cunningness. Statesmanship NOT a Political Corpse. Imagine, “Paz en la terra. Peace on Earth.”

    The deal breaker, WAR; &, the political corpse posing as POTUS masquerading as human, “You know the thing!“

    Not for nothing; but, the state of things, “reflecting the mood,” is in the ART! “Because the world has gone nutty and art always paints the spirit of times.” R.A.Heinlein

    “The Artist Injects the Spirit of Life Into a Culture;” and, the Author’s, Vijay Prashad, choices are, always, spot f/on!!! They’re Magnificent!!! IMO, they depict, “Discussions. The final communiqué focused on the need to strengthen a financial and development architecture for the world…” Thank you. (Full context above).

    TY, Vijay Prashad, CN, et al., “Keep It Lit!”

  2. Jeffrey Blankfort
    September 2, 2023 at 17:29

    Clearly, the new, expanded BRICs reflects a welcome changing of the imperial guard, at least the hue of their skins. Whether it will result in a more humane treatment of the poor of this planet, given the history of a number of its players (plus, their response to the challenges of climate change), remains to be seen. Given their past as well as current history, it is extremely doubtful.

  3. Laurie Holbrook
    September 2, 2023 at 14:00

    Thank you as always to Vijay for clarity, facts and reality. Although I am excited about the ongoing development of BRICS I am concerned about the predominant focus on dependence and value of petroleum. I hope BRICS will radically depart from the west in its view that economic progress comes from barrels of oil. This is a sure recipe for the destruction of all of our futures in this world. I know we can’t turn this around as soon as we need to but at least having a mindset to do so would be reassuring.

    September 2, 2023 at 07:03

    The so-called “West” has for years opposed repeated demands that the group of permanent members of the UN Security Council be enlarged and made properly representative, to include significant countries such as Brazil, India, South Africa. In this 21st century it seems absurd that two of the five permanent seats should still be held by France and the UK.

  5. irina
    September 2, 2023 at 02:47

    A surprising Article in today’s NYT :


  6. Rudy Haugeneder
    September 1, 2023 at 17:26

    Let it be so.

  7. Anon
    September 1, 2023 at 17:20

    Thanx 2 frequent CN contributer Vijay & CN for continued BRICS econ alliance updates.
    This commenter can’t help but note the Karmic aspect specific to this world development… Uhhh… Isn’t the term “Law of Karma” as in: (2nd uhhh) “Rule of”…
    “Why dem doggone Chickens aways come heah ta My Joint ta roost?!!!”
    Billions of formerly alive Earth’s innocents got anything to do with it?
    Ironically the US aid dependant vassal state of Israel seems content to keep it’s BRICS head down… More Karma given it’s traditional regional alliance w/ Saudi Arabia?
    “Ya makes ya choices… Don complain at ya results!”

    (& BTW this Informed American truly wishes to be more able to express Pride in my Nation of origin while observing our Founding Father’s ideals (as enumerated in US Bill of Rights) shredded before my eyes!

  8. Lois Gagnon
    September 1, 2023 at 16:32

    Dare we hope for a peaceful resolution to this global power shift? The mediocre puppets passing for Western leadership do not inspire confidence. Now would be a good time for domestic mass mobilization to disabuse them of a violent world ending reaction. At the moment, the heavily propagandized populations don’t inspire much confidence either.

    • Laurie Holbrook
      September 2, 2023 at 13:49

      So true Lois.
      For decades since WW2 focused and deliberate propaganda has resulted in mass illiteracy regarding history and the reality of current events worldwide. We’ve gone so far down the rabbit hole, I’m not sure can climb back out.

  9. Valerie
    September 1, 2023 at 15:32

    From the article:

    “As is often the case in history, the actions of a dying empire create common ground for its victims to look for new alternatives, no matter how embryonic and contradictory they are. The diversity of support for the expansion of BRICS is an indication of the growing loss of political hegemony of imperialism.”

    I cannot fathom how it took so long for victims of imperialism to grasp the truth. I suppose it can be equated to a psychopath who is adept at controlling and manipulating and convincing enough to make the victim question its own doubts about the sincerity of their motives.

    And on the subject of imperialism, i urge anyone interested in the “Indian Mutiny” to read the book “The Siege of Krishnapur” by J.G. Farrell.

    • Laurie Holbrook
      September 2, 2023 at 13:53

      It isn’t a matter of not grasping the truth by the victims of imperialism. The truth has always been known. What takes time is throwing off the yoke of imperialism and building the strength to organize and create something new. We are now witnessing this progress.

  10. anaisanesse
    September 1, 2023 at 15:18

    Wonderful wonderful Vijay, always ahead in fairness, cooperation, peace and understanding, clearly explaining what goes on and how we can help. Thank you to you and all your team, Vijay.

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