How Bangladesh can benefit by joining BRICS
According to an official of the foreign ministry, Bangladesh will apply to join the BRICS alliance, and the process to formally seek its membership is already underway. Earlier, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said Bangladesh would welcome if BRICS formally invited it to join the grouping of five member-states – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – having previously hinted that Bangladesh is likely to become a member of the bloc in August this year.
BRIC was initially formed in 2006. The only member it formally admitted since then was South Africa in 2010. In April this year, South Africa's BRICS ambassador Anil Sooklal told Bloomberg that a long list of nations were now looking to join the bloc. The list includes 13 countries, with an additional six countries that have informally requested to be part of BRICS. The group of known newcomers includes Saudi Arabia, Iran, Argentina, the UAE, Bangladesh, Algeria, Egypt, Bahrain, Indonesia, Syria, two nations from East Africa and one from West Africa.
According to Dr Salem Nasser, professor of international law at Brazil's FGV Direito SP University, these requests show that there are "ongoing changes in the balance of world power." Although Nasser does not believe that through joining BRICS these countries will be aligning themselves with China or closing the door on collaboration with the West, "BRICS represents a new pole of economic and political power which" can "compete with North American hegemony," he says.
With the geopolitical fractures happening on the global stage, some analysts believe that the existing BRICS member countries are now more willing than ever to admit other countries into the bloc. As a preliminary step towards that, BRICS has allowed more countries to join its New Development Bank (NDB) – formerly referred to as the BRICS Development Bank – in recent years, including Bangladesh in 2021. In the last week of May this year, Saudi Arabia held talks to join the bank as its ninth member. Although new members like Egypt and Bangladesh represent major emerging markets and economies, Saudi Arabia, like the UAE, would represent another rich shareholder in the NDB. And this is sure to increase the NDB's financial capacity to assist the member countries.
The NDB has lent $33 billion for more than 96 projects in the five founding member countries. The main reasons why the BRICS members are looking to expand membership into the NDB could be political. However, according to Cobus van Staden, a senior researcher at the South African Institute of International Affairs, "interest among developing countries to join the (NDB) is driven by dual dynamics." First, because of the "lack of development financing options open to the Global South, particularly for concessional financing aimed at infrastructure development." The lack of concessional options has forced these countries towards market-rated lending, which has "significantly contributed to the current debt crisis in the Global South." Secondly, a small minority of "developing countries has complicated relationships with Western powers, especially in relation to sanctions." For them, "the NDB represents a potential source of financing and influence outside of forums dominated by Western norms and different forms of conditionality linked to financing from institutions like the World Bank."
We need to honestly assess whether our state institutions have matured enough to be able to negotiate and absorb any economic and financial benefits Bangladesh could get from being a part of BRICS.
By that logic, and the ongoing economic challenges that Bangladesh is facing – both internal and external – as well as their ramifications on the country's financial resources, becoming a member of the NDB could be beneficial for us, providing Bangladesh with an additional source of financing. However, how we use any resources that we get will ultimately dictate the extent of that benefit, or even loss.
Consequently, Bangladesh's decision to join BRICS could lead to greater foreign investments into the country given the increased stature Bangladesh will enjoy by being part of a hugely influential group of developing economies. It will also help our country to diversify foreign relations and currency.
Regarding local currency financing, the NDB stands out from the IMF and the World Bank, which primarily use the US dollar as the dominant currency for international transactions. The NDB offers loans in multiple currencies, including the US dollar, euro, Chinese yuan, and other local currencies. Its new chief, former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, recently announced that the bank is gradually shifting away from the US dollar. She pledged that in the future, at least 30 percent of loans would be provided in the local currencies of member countries with the aim of diversifying currencies, reducing the bloc's reliance on the dollar, and helping developing nations avoid the negative impact of exchange rate fluctuations, such as what Bangladesh experienced over the past year. Given that two BRICS members alone – China and India – account for nearly 40 percent of our imports, this facility could be particularly useful for us, especially as Bangladesh is struggling with its dollar reserves.
Aside from these, there are many other benefits Bangladesh could get by joining the BRICS bloc. But what is important to keep in mind is that, should Bangladesh's membership get accepted, it is likely to increase the country's importance and voice on the global stage. This will require Bangladesh to be more proactive on global issues and also when it comes to setting global agendas. Bangladesh needs to be ready for that.
We need to honestly assess whether our state institutions have matured enough to be able to negotiate and absorb any economic and financial benefits Bangladesh could get from being a part of BRICS. Given our poor track record of negotiating favourable deals in our national interests with foreign countries – instead, our political class usually makes deals that benefit it directly, alongside foreign businesses – how Bangladesh can benefit from BRICS is uncertain.
The bloc may soon become a big club, with plenty of big global players, and with that may come the need to make big decisions and work around big challenges. Bangladesh has a lot to do to position itself cleverly so it can handle them carefully.
Eresh Omar Jamal is assistant editor at The Daily Star. His Twitter handle is @EreshOmarJamal