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President Cyril Ramaphosa addressing s Brics summiy at the Sefako Makgatho presidential guest house. Picture: JAIRUS MMUTLE/GCIS
President Cyril Ramaphosa addressing s Brics summiy at the Sefako Makgatho presidential guest house. Picture: JAIRUS MMUTLE/GCIS

Algeria has become the third country, after Iran and Argentina, to formally apply to join the Brics bloc, which includes Brazil, Russia, India, China and SA.

Among the top 40 countries in the world by both population and GDP (converted to international dollars using purchasing power parity), Algeria is a strong candidate for ascension to Brics. The North African nation is Africa’s largest natural gas exporter and the fifth largest in the world.

State-owned oil company Sonatrach is already the largest company on the continent, and Algeria is set to become the biggest gas supplier to Italy now that Russian supplies to Europe have been disrupted by sanctions and the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines.

Algeria has good relations with all the Brics bloc nations. China overtook France as Algeria’s largest trade partner in 2013, and the pair just signed their second five-year strategic co-operation agreement last month. India is an historical ally that supported Algeria in its war of independence from France, and the Algerians in turn support India receiving a permanent seat on the UN security council. 

Russia and Algeria have excellent relations too, particularly in military affairs. Russia is the largest supplier of arms to Algeria and the two countries have recently conducted joint military exercises. Russia is also considering the formation of a natural gas equivalent of oil cartel Opec with Iran. The inclusion of Algeria in Brics could help accelerate the development of such an organisation.

Brics expansion

Last month, during a meeting at the Russian ministry of foreign affairs, a high-ranking government official was emphatic that the formalisation of Brics was not a priority for the “club”. On the other hand, expansion is considered imminent. This actually makes a good deal of sense. The informality of the arrangement means each nation can take what it wants from the association, and co-operation between participating countries can be enhanced without the need for uniform agreement among all the member states.    

Non-Brics countries are already regularly invited to participate in Brics events. This suggests that moving from Brics to a “Brics-plus” format is both feasible and desirable for the existing members. After a meeting with his Indian counterpart, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, in November, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov stated that as “applications have already been officially submitted”, the Brics member states “have agreed to negotiate the criteria and principles of reviewing these applications”. These negotiations, said Lavrov, “will not take long”.

There is a compelling Russian motivation for Brics expansion after its expulsion from what was called the G8. China is also genuinely motivated by a desire to create an alternative to the G7, due to increasing geopolitical tension with the US. As the fastest-growing major economy in the world, India should be especially determined to expand Brics as a platform for advancing its emerging political and economic pre-eminence. SA, Brazil and other developing countries that may join the bloc in future, would all benefit from having a more prominent political voice.

Brics has already expanded once, when China motivated for SA to join in 2010. This shows that it can be done. There are no formal criteria besides the unanimous consent of the existing members. This creates a strong incentive to join sooner rather than later, before there are more non-founding countries with a say on further expansion. We have already seen this in the EU, where expansion has slowed in part due to the principle of unanimous consent.

Brics as a decolonial movement

Another attraction for countries such as Algeria is that Brics is in many ways a decolonial movement. Like SA, Algeria opposed Nato’s intervention in Libya, an intervention that resulted in the extrajudicial killing of the head of AU and the destruction of what was once one of Africa’s most prosperous nations. As a more recent example, Algerians were greatly offended by French President Emmanuel Macron questioning whether Algeria existed as a nation before French colonisation. Despite millions of Algerians dying as a result of the French occupation, Paris has never apologised for its bloody suppression of its Mediterranean neighbours.  

In 2023 the chairmanship of Brics passes to SA, during a crucial time for determining the road map for Brics expansion, which will give more weight to bloc as a political entity. It could also provide a critical mass for developing alternative financial systems. This could help lower debt servicing costs for poorer nations. Such nations often have to borrow development capital at higher rates than their former colonisers despite often having lower relative debt levels, better trade balances, and higher rates of economic growth. 

Algeria’s good relations with the individual Brics nations certainly increases the likelihood of it being invited to join the bloc. Brics would become Brics+ as more countries join. Expanded membership would give impetus to the primary objectives of the grouping, which include enhanced political co-ordination among developing countries, and the formation of alternative payment and reserve currency systems for global trade.

Algeria is already a member of Opec, the Arab Trade Zone and the African Continental Free Trade Area. These economic and trade groupings offer Algeria free trade, prestige and favourable relations with a large number of countries. Joining Brics is the natural next step.

A seat at the Brics table is a unique opportunity for developing nations, offering them unrivalled educational, scientific, and financial co-operation as well as a much-needed political voice.

• Shubitz is an independent Brics researcher.

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