Wider Eurasia
The UAE’s BRICS Membership: A Growing Role for the Global South

Our world is not static; the year 2023 witnessed heightened interest in the role of the Global South in shaping the international order. 

The Concept of the Global South

The idea of the Global South is increasingly connected to the individual or collective efforts of developing countries in actively shaping international outcomes and their demands for a more equitable share in global decision-making processes. 

A key conclusion drawn during the 10th Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate (ADSD), convened by the Emirates Policy Center in November 2023, was that the Global South is now playing an increasing role on the world scene, affecting – directly or indirectly – the balance between great powers, primarily through the roles of medium-sized powers. 

During the debate, the panellists argued that in the wake of the Ukraine conflict, the Global South had shown an increasing desire for non-alignment, refrainment from global polarisation, the prioritisation of national interests, and the diversification of partnerships. 

However, considering the Global South as a homogenous, distinct, or separate bloc has “deep analytical flaws.” It is also an obstacle to serious engagement with the non-Western world. Moreover, using the Global South as a category and frame of reference makes it much harder to understand the complex realities of different countries and regions, given the actors’ intertwined interests and priorities. 

However, this does not rule out the need for necessary reforms in the international order to reflect new changes and interactions that reshape several aspects of our lives and the patterns of international relations. 

Critics argue that the Global South concept oversimplifies the nature and scope of a diverse array of countries. It fails to capture the economic, political, and cultural realities of the countries it groups together. However, these views might unfairly assess the idea for what it does not include rather than what it represents. Its value lies in highlighting the shared struggle these countries face in influencing the management of the world order compared to the Global North, which also lacks a homogenous identity. 

The Dilemmas of the Global South
Yaroslav Lissovolik
As new trade barriers and restrictions are emanating from the advanced economies there is a stronger case for the affected emerging economies to compensate these adverse effects via greater openness of markets across the Global South.

From Economic to Geopolitical 

Since August 2023, we started talking about BRICS+ after an invitation was extended to six new countries, including the UAE and Saudi Arabia, to join the group. This is the group’s first expansion since 2010, which would add new financial, oil, logistical, and human power. 

After this expansion, which started in January 2024, and considering the changing dynamics in the international environment, there is growing talk of the possibility that BRICS, or BRICS+, might move from being a mere bloc focusing primarily on trade and economics, into a group with broader geopolitical interests and priorities. The group’s recent meeting in November 2023 on the Gaza War signalled that it had transcended the economy in the group’s interests and preoccupations. 

This issue is raised despite realising its difficulty, especially when there are tangible differences and competition among its members with regards to several regional and international issues and geopolitical priorities. Signs of fragility are also observable in the Global South amid its growing presence. 

Either way, the voice of BRICS+ is more vital – even necessary – on international issues than ever in reflecting multilateralism in the global order. It amounts to not giving up on any voice that might make a positive and supportive difference in the need for an international order that represents all of us, not one group or another.

The group is calling for a multi-lateral global order that respects state sovereignty, advocates the reconsideration of sanctions policy, and supports the choices by states to use their local currencies.

This happened between the UAE and India in July 2023 as bilateral or multi-lateral trade seem to be the BRICS member countries’ core priorities and those nominated to join the group. In the summer of 2023, the UAE and India signed agreements to establish a framework promoting the use of local currencies in cross-border transactions and fostering cooperation in connecting their payment systems. Following the deal, India initiated the purchase of UAE oil using Indian rupees, contributing to the expansion of trade between the two countries. 

At the Johannesburg 2023 Summit, governors of central banks and finance ministers were tasked by member states to identify mechanisms to reduce their exposure to perceived global financial threats. Some options and proposals are expected to be presented and discussed during this year’s BRICS Summit in Kazan, Russia. 

In 2001, the emerging-market group BRICS, comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, collectively represented 19 percent of global GDP in purchasing power parity terms. With additional countries poised to join the bloc, this share has surged to 36 percent. The figure is anticipated to climb to 45 percent by 2040, surpassing more than double the economic weight of the Group of Seven (G7) major advanced economies. 

Global Economic Transformation 

The rapid rise of the BRICS nations is transforming the global economy, with their growing economic influence potentially causing a significant shift in global power dynamics. Despite this, a lack of cohesion within the bloc poses a challenge and may hinder the realisation of ambitious goals some of its members set. 

The UAE considers its BRICS membership as a strategic opportunity to expand trade and access new markets. There are plans to allocate more capital to the New Development Bank, which was established by BRICS two years ago. The UAE asserts that its BRICS membership is not intended as a pivot away from the United States. Instead, joining the BRICS bloc aligns with the UAE’s commitment to supporting multilateralism globally as the country aims to enhance trade relations with the Global South. 

As one of the few nations managing a sovereign wealth capital exceeding a trillion US dollars, the UAE is a major shareholder in the Development Bank, the financial institution the BRICS grouping established. This bank is designed to provide loans for development projects in emerging markets. 

The UAE Ministry of Finance hosted the BRICS Board of Directors meetings in Dubai from November 27-28, 2023, marking the first such meeting in the UAE and the region. The UAE aims to leverage innovative financing tools, underscoring the country’s commitment to diversity in supporting development for the well-being and prosperity of people and nations worldwide. 

As Dr. Anwar Gargash, the Diplomatic Adviser to the UAE President, highlighted during the 10th ADSD, the UAE is strategically “turning its attention eastward to cultivate partnerships with countries such as India, Japan, China, South Korea, and Indonesia.” The UAE envisions significant prospects and opportunities for growth and diversification in the East. Notably, the UAE perceives no conflict between its West and East relations. He said that, instead, it aims to intensify connections, forge bridges between nations, and expand opportunities, emphasising that it is deemed necessary while achieving this balance may be challenging. 

The increasing misconception of the nature and scope of the Global South’s activity can create a significant setback for more constructive North-South cooperation. Engaging with the Global South effectively requires the Global North to recognise and adapt to these changing geopolitical realities, focusing on mutual benefits and respecting national sovereignty.

World Economy
Towards a Free Trade Area for the Global South
Yaroslav Lissovolik
The expanded format of the BRICS+ dialogue conducted by China in June 2022 as well as the rising number of large developing economies expressing willingness to join the BRICS core grouping sets the scene for more ambitious steps directed at strengthening South-South economic cooperation.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.