SAO PAULO: News of the expansion of the BRICS group to include six new members — among them three Arab nations and Argentina — has been received with delight by Argentinians and Brazilians, especially members of institutions that incentivize trade with the Arab world.
Both South American nations have strong commercial ties with Arab countries, and have been involved in several joint projects with some of them over the past few years. Now, they hope that common participation in BRICS will further deepen their relations.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Thursday that BRICS, which held its 15th summit this week in Johannesburg, decided to invite six countries to join: Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Full membership is scheduled to become effective in 2024.
This is the first expansion in 13 years of the group, which was founded in 2009 by Brazil, Russia, India and China. South Africa joined one year later.
Over the past decade, the bloc established a number of initiatives to consolidate its geopolitical significance, including the New Development Bank and the BRICS Contingent Reserve Agreement.
Such actions have given it the reputation of being not only a group of some of the most important emerging economies, but also an alliance of the foremost players in the so-called Global South.
The inclusion of Saudi Arabia and the UAE in BRICS demonstrates that both countries want to “enhance their relations with the whole world,” historian Tufy Kairuz, an expert in relations between Brazil and the Arab world, told Arab News.
“It will be an important step to make Mercosur closer to the Gulf nations,” he said, referring to the South American trading bloc established in 1991.
Trade between Brazil and Saudi Arabia has historically been significant. In 2022, Brazilian imports from Saudi Arabia — mostly oil-related products — reached $5.3 billion, and its exports to the Kingdom — mostly halal poultry and beef, as well as other commodities — amounted to $2.9 billion.
The volume of Brazilian exports to the UAE has also been growing lately, with a record level in 2022, reaching $3.2 billion.
Despite the current economic difficulties facing Egypt, “it has a symbolic relevance given its role in the Non-Aligned Movement in the 1960s and 1970s, and it’s an important market,” Kairuz said. In 2022, Brazilian exports to Egypt amounted to $2.8 billion.
Ali Saifi, CEO of Cdial Halal, a halal certification company in Brazil, told Arab News: “The invitation to those Arab nations was a very important move from BRICS, and contributes to improving the Brazilian relations with the Arab world.”
He added: “Brazil is the world’s largest halal exporter and has excellent relations with the Arab League. Things can only get better now that we’ll be together in the same bloc.”
Saifi emphasized that both Saudi Arabia and the UAE have “leaders with a vision of development” who have been engaging in more and more projects in South America, especially green energy and infrastructure. “Brazil has to keep being a close partner to them,” he said.
For Argentina, which has been struggling with financial problems over the past few years, BRICS membership is not only geopolitically important but economically as well, said Mariela Cuadro, an expert in the Middle East and the Global South, and a researcher at the National Scientific and Technical Research Council at the National University of San Martín, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.
“It’s a bloc that allows Argentina to connect with new countries and strengthen its identity as part of the Global South,” she told Arab News.
BRICS can also function as a forum where authorities and officials “will be able to meet face to face and open new possibilities of trade,” Cuadro added.
Last year, trade between the UAE and Argentina reached $1.8 billion. Argentinian exports to Saudi Arabia amounted to $1.1 billion, with almost the same volume of imports.
“BRICS corresponds to a new paradigm for economic growth and trade,” Alfredo Abboud, secretary-general of the Argentinian Chamber of Commerce and Services for the UAE, told Arab News.
He believes that new commercial opportunities will be created within the group, “which gathers countries with large territories, populations and gross domestic products that are also key food producers.”
He said: “I’m very excited about the inclusion of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt. That’s a new world scenario, and Argentina must be part of it.”