BEAMS of the Sunrise: A Look at BRICS 5-Year Cycles

Of clear morning the beams of the sunrise flow in,
Unimpeded, keen, golden and crystalline,
Banded armies of light and air at one gate
They encounter, but interpenetrate.

- Percy Bysshe Shelley, “A vision of the sea”

With South Africa’s chairmanship in the BRICS this year and the 10th BRICS summit expected to take place next month, the BRICS have come full-circle in their outreach efforts vis-à-vis other developing economies. Back in 2013 it was precisely South Africa that launched the first outreach exercise with respect to its regional partners in Africa. The onset of the new 5-year cycle marked by South Africa’s BRICS chairmanship will build on China’s earlier innovations with BRICS+ and will also feature new approaches pointing to the qualitative transformations in the BRICS dialogue with the developing world.

The BRICS outreach exercises at the very outset were framed in a regional context, with all core BRICS members inviting their regional partners to take part in the BRICS summits throughout the 2013-2018 period:         

- 2013 South Africa: Durban BRICS summit – the outreach exercise is launched. Attending the outreach were the Chairperson of the African Union, the Chairperson of the AU Commission, African Leaders representing the eight Regional Economic Communities.

- 2014 Brazil: during the Fortaleza summit in Brazil the outreach meeting brought together the BRICS and leaders of UNASUR, the Union of South American Nations which includes members of the MERCOSUR as well as a number of other countries in South America.

- 2015 Russia: at the 7th BRICS Summit in Ufa, Russia the outreach incorporated the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as well as the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).

- 2016 India: Goa BRICS summit – the outreach was attended by the heads of member states of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic
Cooperation (BIMSTEC), an international organization of seven nations of
South Asia.

- 2017 China: Xiamen BRICS summit – a major innovation takes place, whereby China launched the BRICS-Plus arrangement, which involved the invitation of the leaders of Egypt, Guinea, Mexico, Tajikistan, and Thailand. The novelty of China’s approach was to transcend the regional approach rendering the cooperation with other developing countries transcontinental/trans-regional in scope. 

- 2018 South Africa: building on the innovations of China, South Africa opted for a synthesis of regional outreach approach and the diversified BRICS+ approach that became focused on various regional integration groups of developing countries – in particular the countries invited to take part in the BRICS+ exercise included:

  • Argentina (as Chair of the G20 and influential MERCOSUR member),
  • Indonesia (as Co-Chair of the New Africa-Asia Strategic Partnership with South Africa and influential ASEAN member),
  • Egypt (as Chair of the G77+China),
  • Jamaica (as incoming Chair of CARICOM), and
  • Turkey (as Chair of the OIC).

Further innovations along the BRICS+ road may involve progression to forming a unified platform of regional integration arrangements that featured in the outreach activities of the past 5-year cycle of BRICS summits. Such an aggregation of regional arrangements from the past summits for each of the BRICS members would then feature the African Union (AU), MERCOSUR (given the difficulties experienced by UNASUR), the Eurasian Economic Union, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as well as BIMSTEC.

Altogether the resulting acronym – BEAMS – among its several meanings is suggestive of the role of the aggregating platform of regional integration blocks as supporting structures to the edifice built on BRICS. In terms of terminology, the BEAMS platform is to denote the aggregation of regional integration groups, with BRICS+ being a broader concept that incorporates other forms of BRICS’ interaction with developing economies such as platforms of regional developing institutions or regional financing arrangements (RFAs).

The above BEAMS grouping is a direct, almost one-for-one reconstruction of the sequence of BRICS outreach exercises with their regional partners throughout the 2013-2017 period. In effect it is the “revealed preference” of the BRICS economies with respect to the composition of the BRICS+ aggregating platform of regional integration groups. The contribution from China was that of launching a diversified, global approach within the BRICS+ format that taken together with earlier outreach exercises lays the foundations for what China’s foreign minister Wang Yi termed as the “most extensive platform for South-South cooperation with a global impact”. In other words, BRICS+ and BEAMS as its sub-component, is a summing up/synthesis of earlier BRICS experiments and innovations in the field of building ties with the Global South.

In light of the trends and possibilities outlined above with respect to the formation of the BEAMS platform as well as the BRICS+ mode of cooperation more broadly, the past two 5-year BRICS cycles as well as the coming “golden decade” comprising the next two 5-year cycles may be presented as follows:

-          first 5-year cycle: conceiving diversity and including South Africa into the BRICS fore

-          second cycle: engaging regional partners (outreach cycle)

-          third cycle (next 5 years): the BRICS+ period and the crystallization of the “integration of integrations” BEAMS platform

-          the fourth cycle: the BRICS++ period and the extension of the integration impulses from the regional BRICS+ platform to other parts of the developing world via a combination of regional and bilateral economic alliances.

While in the case of the BRICS grouping the key criterion was the selection of the largest heavy-weights in terms of GDP and market size across EM, in the case of the BEAMS/BRICS+ platform of “integration of integrations” the criterion is more geared towards selecting those groups of countries that are the closest allies to the respective BRICS core members. Nonetheless, looking at the league table of regional arrangements formed by developing countries, it does appear that the regional groupings in the BEAMS platform such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Eurasia, or Mercosur in South America are among the largest in terms of GDP in their respective regions. Accordingly, one may also consider the BEAMS/BRICS+ platform as the aggregation of some of the largest regional integration groups across the developing world.

The IMF’s and World bank’s figures for 2016 suggest that the BEAMS platform comprising BIMSTEC, EAEU, the African Union, Mercosur and the SCO would account for 27.4% of global GDP, well above 15% of the IMF quota and nearly two-thirds (66%) of the global population. This is a notable improvement compared to the BRICS core, which accounts for 22.3% of global GDP, less than the 15% benchmark for the IMF quota and 42% of the population. Of broadly the same orders of magnitude would be other possible modifications of the BRICS+ platform, such as the proposed TRIA (comprising pan-continental unions such as CELAC and the African Union as well as the SCO) and a more RTA-focused variation of the BEAMS platform comprising BIMSTEC, EAEU, the ASEAN-China FTA, Mercosur and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). While TRIA would account for 29.7% of global GDP and 66% of global population, the corresponding figures for the modified version of the BEAMS platform would be 27.7% and 58.2% respectively.

Interestingly, both modifications of the BEAMS platform are roughly on par in GDP terms with the largest regional integration arrangements in the world, namely NAFTA, which in 2016 accounted for 28.1% of global GDP and only 6.5% of the world’s population. At the same time in terms of GDP size BEAMS is notably behind such potential platforms as TPP (together with the US) and TTIP – these account for 38.3% and 46.5% of global GDP respectively. The way for an alliance of developing economies to edge closer to these levels of aggregated GDP weight would be to bring together all of the main regional trading arrangements of the Global South on top of BEAMS/TRIA such as ASEAN and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). This in turn would also serve to bridge the gap with what currently appears to be the largest potential alliance in the world, namely a combined TPP and TTIP platform which would account for more than 60% of global GDP.

Aside from the quantitative considerations of the size of GDP and populations, compared to the BRICS core, the BEAMS/BRICS+ framework presents a qualitatively more diversified structure, which dilutes the prominence one single country and presents greater diversity and variety of economic models and types of regional integration. An “extended format” for BRICS via expanding economic cooperation with regional partners also renders such a platform more promising for increasing the use of national currencies across the developing world (see Y. Lissovolik. Monetizing BRICS+: introducing the R5 initiative, August 30, 2017). The formation of the BEAMS/BRICS+ platform also allows participating economies to exploit the sizeable potential of reducing the South-South protectionism – the signing of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is one of the most important recent advances in this area. In this respect the regionalism (including mega-regionalism) of the Global South offers more scope for trade liberalization and variability in integration patterns and formations compared to the largely structured and in some respects ossified regionalism of the developed world.

Perhaps the most important reason why the BRICS+ platform based on aggregating regional groups is expedient and urgent is due to the trends observed in the world economy, namely the formation of mega-regional blocks such as the Trans-Pacific and the Trans-Atlantic Partnerships. While the formation of the latter has been postponed by tensions between the US and the EU, there are signs that the Trans-Pacific partnership is brought back to life. The main race in the world economy today is the creation of aggregated platforms of regional integration arrangements (TPP may be contemplated as bringing together several integration arrangements, including NAFTA, ANZCERTA, Peru-Chile FTA as well as a number of ASEAN economies) that have enough mass and leverage to attract trade and investment flows from across the world economy. In this respect the BEAMS formation may be the best that the Global South can come up with in terms of building a large enough platform (in effect its own mega-regional platform) to limit the adverse impact of trade diversion and losses in investment flows emanating from the emergence of other mega-regional blocks.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.