Analysis: Argentina’s BRICS membership shows growing leadership of China, Brazil

Argentina’s inclusion bolsters Latin America’s role in the midst of a shifting world order one analyst calls an ‘irreversible historical process’

President of Brazil Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, President of China Xi Jinping, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pose for a BRICS family photo during the 2023 BRICS Summit at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa, on August 23, 2023. GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/Pool via REUTERS

Thursday’s announcement that Argentina will join the BRICS bloc shows the country’s value to Brazil and the growing influence of Asia on the world stage, analysts have told the Herald

Governments of the grouping — which until now has included Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — are unlikely to be deterred by presidential frontrunner candidates Javier Milei and Patricia Bullrich’s comments that they would not participate in the bloc, the analysts added.

The announcement comes during Argentina’s electoral transition, with presidential candidates grandstanding mid-campaign. Juntos por el Cambio (JxC) presidential candidate Patricia Bullrich, who spoke at the Council of the Americas conference just two hours after Fernández’ speech, said that if she were elected president Argentina would not become part of the BRICS. Likewise, Milei said that he would not make deals with “communist” countries, which to him include China and Brazil. 

However, political infighting of a particular country does not usually influence strategic decisions at a geopolitical level, according to Jorge Castro, an Argentine foreign policy analyst who has lectured at the University of Buenos Aires.

“When countries make decisions like this, they’re not really paying attention to [domestic political battles],” he said. “They’re looking at worldwide trends and analyzing things in the long run and in terms of a global situation, a scenario where Argentina’s main exports go to China and India, and where Brazil’s role continues to grow.”   

Oliver Stuenkel, a Brazilian political analyst and International Relations lecturer at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, agreed that the timing didn’t seem to be ideal, since someone who doesn’t support joining BRICS could win the upcoming elections, but said that these large, strategic geopolitical decisions tend to follow a timeline of their own. 

“This happened now because China is pushing for it now, and also because Lula wanted at least one other Latin American country in the bloc,” Stuenkel said. “Also, we have to take into account that Chinese government officials plan very much ahead, and aren’t too concerned about short term developments.”

Stuenkel recalls he was in Beijing when former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro won the elections in 2018 and was curious to see what Chinese government officials thought. “They asked me if I thought Bolsonaro would still be in power in 10 or 15 years, and I said no. ‘Then it’s not something very important for us’, they replied. Of course they don’t want to lose money, but they’re not overly concerned about obtaining immediate results.” 

Rise of Asia

The decision to expand the BRICS should be interpreted in the context of a geopolitical shift “from a unipolar world to a multilateral one, where the main hub of world growth is in Asia,” according to Castro. “What’s surprising is that Argentina, by entering into the BRICS bloc, is now part of this shift.” He added that the main driver for the country’s inclusion was Brazil and its President Lula da Silva. 

In Castro’s view, Brazil’s actions are in line with its intentions of having a larger presence on the world stage. “Argentina is the most important country in Latin America for Brazil, not only in economic but also in strategic terms. If they want to become a global actor, they need Argentina’s backing.”

Although Lula da Silva has of late been the most vocal proponent of Argentina’s inclusion in the BRICS bloc, Stuenkel places Argentina’s inclusion as part of China’s plan of expanding the bloc that began in 2017 and is now beginning to take shape.

“Lula has placed the utmost importance on strengthening Brazil’s relationship with Argentina, especially because of the setbacks in the bilateral relationship of the past four years [while far-right President Jair Bolsonaro was in power], but the Brazilian diplomatic community was not as keen on Argentina’s inclusion,” said Stuenkel.

This was not because they had anything against Argentina, but because they felt that the expansion of the BRICS bloc weakened its exclusivity, he added. In the end, it was the scale of China’s determination that led them to change their stance. 

“It became clear to them that Beijing would not be deterred in its goal, and that opposing it could result in significant political cost for Brazil.” 

In addition to the possibility of trade expansion, entering BRICS could allow Argentina to gain regular access to conferences, exhibitions and meetings that help the country better adapt to the shifting world order. “Getting to know how a country’s bureaucracy works is not a trivial matter given China’s global importance and influence,” Stuenkel says.

The BRICS is a bloc that focuses on boosting economic and trade cooperation between member countries, which until now included Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. The term “BRIC” arose in 2001 to describe emerging economies with the potential to take protagonism in the global market. South Africa was added in 2010.

When Argentina joins on January 1, 2024, it will become part of a bloc that includes two of the top five world economies — China and India — and boasts 24% of current global GDP. More than 30% of Argentina’s agricultural exports, mainly soybeans and food products, go to China, while India is the main market for Argentina’s soy oil. 

It will be one of six countries to be admitted into the group, along with Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.


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