Membership expansion seems challenging
Common currency still not in sight
PM Hasina to meet Narendra Modi, Xi Jinping on the sidelines
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s participation in the BRICS summit in South Africa has generated much interest in Bangladesh about the five-country political bloc.
The Bangladesh government, like several other countries, has shown an interest in becoming a member of the grouping of major emerging economies. All the current members – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – are part of the G20, and they together account for about a quarter of the global economy and 41.9% of the world’s population.
This year’s summit comes amid the tensions of the Russia-Ukraine war. There are reports that BRICS is planning to introduce a common currency in an effort to curb the dominance of the dollar.
However, experts do not see an expansion or common currency happening anytime soon.
Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected to attend the summit along with the host, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, in Johannesburg from August 22-24.
Russian President Vladimir Putin will join the summit virtually due to an arrest warrant issued against him by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes in Ukraine.
The last day of the summit will be focused on talks with leaders from other countries. Invitations to attend the summit were extended to 67 leaders across Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Caribbean, South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said.
During the visit, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is expected to meet her Indian counterpart Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines, among others. Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen will provide details of the visit in a briefing today.
Bangladesh’s interest in joining BRICS is being seen by many as an effort to offset western pressure ahead of the general elections. The US recently announced a policy on restricting visas as a pressure tactic to ensure that free and fair elections are held in Bangladesh, while the opposition BNP has declared that it will boycott the polls if the prime minister does not step down.
Experts have said BRICS is not about politics, but that there are serious economic aspects to it.
“I don’t think it’s a political decision. It’s an emerging countries’ bloc. So, for Bangladesh, interest in BRICS is more economic,” Prof Mustafizur Rahman, distinguished fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), a leading think tank, told Dhaka Tribune.
“BRICS is a very important bloc. It has a lot of potential. Though the member countries did not take much steps to deepen economic relations between themselves, a new development bank or BRICS bank has been created. And Bangladesh was the first member of it other than the BRICS member countries. Soft loans for different projects are also in the pipeline. So, it’s good for Bangladesh,” he said.
“But I don’t think there will be any expansion of membership this year. As far as I know, 23 countries have applied for membership. But BRICS did not agree to the decision of expansion yet. It has not yet been able to set the guidelines of countries becoming members of it. First, its current member-states have to set the criteria and then they will decide to take in new members. This is not going to happen this time,” Prof Mustafiz said.
There are reports that Beijing is focused on a quick expansion with the aim of giving the platform a “distinctly anti-western orientation”.
Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said that the process of expansion is still a work in progress, given the lack of a common understanding among the five members on standards, criteria and procedures of what an expanded grouping would look like.
In last year’s summit declaration in Beijing, the members agreed to support promoting discussions among the BRICS members on the expansion process with the focus on clarifying “ guiding principles, standards, criteria and procedures for this expansion process through a sherpas’ channel on the basis of full consultation and consensus.”
“Even the common currency decision is complex – whether it will be a separate currency or their own currency. I don’t think any currency decision will come anytime soon,” said Prof Mustafizur Rahman.
“There are complexities in the relationship between India and China. India is a member of the new Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, which is being seen as an anti-China alliance,” he said.
“But there are a lot of opportunities in doing trade and investment among the member states, and Bangladesh can benefit from that.
“BRICS can also have associate members and economic sector-based partners. Such initiatives can be helpful when it floats any currency,” he suggested.
Prof Shahab Enam Khan of the political science department at the University of Delaware also welcomed Bangladesh’s interest in BRICS while talking to Dhaka Tribune.
However, he said Bangladesh has to keep in mind the politics within BRICS. “Joining BRICS is very good for our image and international recognition. It is also a challenge for us.”
“There is considerable interest in Bangladesh becoming a member of BRICS . I think it’s based on economic interest. In geopolitics, it’s not always politics, there are economic issues also. But we have to keep in mind there is a Chinese bloc and an Indian bloc within BRICS. India wants its own currency regime while China wants its own currency regime. So, we have to be careful about it and see how the internal political mechanism within BRICS plays out,” he said.
“If we talk from our own geo-political point of view, this is a very important platform for us. But in the power competition, Bangladesh has to manoeuvre its way through all the power politics and then carefully step into the alliance,” said Prof Shahab Enam Khan.
Source: Dhaka Tribune.