The expected incorporation of the Saudi kingdom into the main group of emerging economies as a full member opens up great possibilities for cooperation and an increase in the entity's capacity for economic manoeuvre

BRICS and Saudi Arabia, a promising outlook

PHOTO/AFP/RODGER BOSCH - Vista del reflejo en una ventana de un hombre mirando al mar frente a las banderas nacionales de los países BRICS (China, India, Rusia, Sudáfrica y Brasil) durante la reunión de ministros de Asuntos Exteriores de los BRICS en Ciudad del Cabo, el 2 de junio de 2023
PHOTO/AFP/RODGER BOSCH - View of the reflection in a window of a man looking out to sea in front of the national flags of the BRICS countries (China, India, Russia, South Africa and Brazil) during the BRICS foreign ministers' meeting in Cape Town on June 2, 2023

The BRICS group of countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) is an economic and trade association of great importance in the world made up of the five emerging economies that at the start of the 21st century were considered to have the greatest growth potential on the planet.  

All these nations have in common a very large population (41% of the world total), an extensive territory (29% of the global total) with a large strategic dimension that is practically continental, a large amount of natural resources and a large growth in their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and their volume of world trade in recent years. It is also worth noting that all its members are integrated into the G20, which represents the 20 most powerful economies in the world, which is a sign of its size. 

The BRICS bloc founded an international development finance institution and has also been seeking alternative ways of trading and promoting local currencies as its main achievements.  

PHOTO/Xinhua/Zhang Yudong/Photo by Zhang Yudong/XINHUA/Xinhua vía AFP - Wang Yi (2º izda, delante), miembro del Buró Político del Comité Central del Partido Comunista de China (PCCh) y director de la Oficina de la Comisión Central de Asuntos Exteriores del PCCh, posa para una foto con los delegados de la 13ª Reunión de Asesores de Seguridad Nacional y Altos Representantes de Seguridad Nacional de los BRICS en Johannesburgo, Sudáfrica, 24 de julio de 2023
PHOTO/Xinhua/Zhang Yudong/Photo by Zhang Yudong/XINHUA/Xinhua via AFP - Wang Yi (2nd left, front), member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and director of the Office of the CPC Central Foreign Affairs Commission, poses for a photo with delegates to the 13th BRICS National Security Advisors and Senior National Security Representatives Meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, July 24, 2023

Now, if this group is joined, as is expected, by Saudi Arabia, the most important economy in the Middle East, then the scale of the partnership takes on an even more impressive level. The addition of the Saudi kingdom, which now has observer status, would strengthen ties between the New Development Bank (the BRICS bank), which was established by the world's largest emerging economies as an alternative to Western-led institutions, and a major oil producer like the Arab country. "In the Middle East, we attach great importance to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and are currently in dialogue with them," the New Development Bank said in an official statement at the time.  

The Saudi kingdom has joined the BRICS group as an observer and initiated the procedure to join the institution, which now gives it many commercial and economic options within the scope of action granted by this status, according to analysts and experts. The bloc has opened itself up to expansion and the first country to present its candidacy to join was the great regional power in the Middle East, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Another twenty or so countries have also recently expressed their interest in joining the bloc. 

XINHUA/LI TAO vía AP - En esta foto publicada por la agencia de noticias Xinhua, se ve al presidente chino, Xi Jinping, en una pantalla con el presidente sudafricano, Cyril Ramaphosa, el presidente brasileño, Jair Bolsonaro, el presidente ruso, Vladimir Putin, y el primer ministro indio, Narendra Modi, mientras organiza la 14.ª Cumbre BRICS a través de Enlace de video desde Pekín, jueves 23 de junio de 2022
XINHUA/LI TAO via AP - In this photo released by Xinhua news agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping is seen on a screen with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he hosts the 14th BRICS Summit via Video link from Beijing, Thursday, June 23, 2022

Opposition to the West and Saudi positioning

An upcoming summit of the BRICS group is expected to take place on 22-24 August under the chairmanship of South Africa and is expected to reaffirm anti-Western sentiment and the intention to present a diverse bloc against the US-led West with Europe, which has been the beacon to follow in recent years.  

The Saudi move is also expected to strengthen the Kingdom's trade and economic relations while reaffirming its commitment to global economic openness and prudent management of economic ties. 

In this vein, Mohammed Makni, Professor of Finance and Investment at the Imam Mohammad Ibn Saud Islamic University in Saudi Arabia, told Asharq Al-Awsat that since its inception, the BRICS group has sought to shift economic power towards a more multi-directional version. This is in line with the idea that these emerging powers seek to break with the current unipolar world that emerged from the end of the Cold War and the fall of the communist bloc, which left the United States as the main global player and the West as the benchmark to follow. Now the axis of importance has shifted to the Indo-Pacific and the Global South and there are more international political actors claiming a greater role and weight in world politics, economics and trade. 

PHOTO/FILE - Mohamed bin Salman, príncipe heredero de Arabia Saudí
PHOTO/FILE - Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia

Makni also added that the inclusion of Saudi Arabia will open up new avenues and opportunities for the Saudi kingdom and the Gulf markets, leading to global economic stabilisation and improvement.  

The counterpart also for the BRICS members is that Saudi Arabia can play a very important role because of its economic volume and its high value in the oil and gas market, which accounts for 30 percent of Saudi Arabia's exports to the rest of the world, something to keep in mind considering the country's economic volume figures.  

Saudi Arabia, with a population of more than 34 million people, is in 43rd place in the world population table, out of 196 countries, and has a very low population density, 16 inhabitants per square kilometre, and the Saudi kingdom is 17th in the ranking of economies by GDP volume. These figures show just how big the Arab country has become.  

PHOTO/Russian Foreign Ministry via Reuters - Reunión de los BRICS en Sudáfrica
PHOTO/Russian Foreign Ministry via Reuters - BRICS meeting in South Africa

The Saudi kingdom has embarked on a major economic diversification programme under the title 'Vision 2030' with the aim of diversifying its economy so that it does not depend exclusively on oil as its main source of income. The aim is to boost and develop other sectors through major investments and to be able to improve revenue streams through other activities. 

This plan requires the cooperation of other countries with expertise in the sectors that the Kingdom wants to develop, such as tourism, new technologies, sport, etc., so that these nations can contribute their experience and, in this line, the Kingdom is opening up diplomatically to the world and establishing relations with many relevant international actors that can enable it to increase its commercial exchanges and achieve greater economic and sectoral development.  

In the past, Saudi Arabia already had good relations with the United States and obviously with most of its neighbours in the Middle East region. Now, the rapprochement towards other poles of power such as the emerging BRICS countries gives it the opportunity to expand while also maintaining a balance of interests with different countries that may even have very different objectives.  

FOTO/AP - El presidente chino Xi Jinping y al príncipe heredero de Arabia Saudí, Mohamed bin Salman
PHOTO/AP - Chinese President Xi Jinping and Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Saudi Arabia is keen to develop future cooperation with the BRICS group to achieve collective prosperity, as Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah recently noted. 

The Saudi Foreign Minister recently participated in the Friends of BRICS ministerial meeting in Cape Town, South Africa, held under the theme "Partnership for Mutually Accelerated Growth, Sustainable Development and Inclusive Multilateralism", and said that the Kingdom wished to advance its future cooperation with the BRICS by benefiting from the potential and capabilities possessed by both sides, with the challenge of fulfilling common interests and achieving prosperity for all. 

The Saudi kingdom is the largest trading partner of the BRICS group in the Middle East, as explained by Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah, who said that trade relations with the BRICS countries have experienced great growth. "This reflects the growing and developing relations with the countries of the group," the minister was quoted as saying by Arab News. 

PHOTO/FILE - Vladimir Putin, presidente de Rusia, y Narendra Modi, primer ministro de India
PHOTO/FILE - Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, and Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India

The total value of bilateral trade with BRICS countries increased from $81 billion in 2017 and $128 billion in 2021 to over $160 billion last year, as the Saudi foreign minister noted.  

The Kingdom shares core values with the BRICS countries, represented in the belief that relations between countries are based on the principles of respect for sovereignty, non-interference and compliance with international law, Prince Faisal bin Farhan explained. This ties in with the idea of seeking a new international balance and giving greater voice and importance to the Global South and the East vis-à-vis the Western bloc.  

Saudi Arabia, along with the BRICS countries, also believes in the importance of peace, security and stability to refocus efforts towards national development and common prosperity, said Prince Faisal bin Farhan.

SPUTNIK/ALEXEY NIKOLSKY - En esta foto de archivo tomada el 27 de julio de 2018, el presidente ruso, Vladimir Putin, da una conferencia de prensa al final de la 10ª cumbre BRICS
SPUTNIK/ALEXEY NIKOLSKY - In this file photo taken on July 27, 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin gives a press conference at the end of the 10th BRICS summit

Interest in joining BRICS and gateway to the Gulf

The BRICS group of rapidly developing emerging economies has established itself as an alternative to the Western-dominated global order since the fall of the communist bloc and the end of the Cold War. According to several analysts, this strong emergence and weight of the BRICS countries has sparked the interest of dozens of countries to join the bloc, which is preparing its next summit in August.  

South Africa, currently holding the BRICS presidency, will host the next three-day meeting in Johannesburg in August and argues that BRICS expansion will be high on the agenda. Argentina, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are among the countries seeking to join the group, South Africa's BRICS ambassador Anil Sooklal told reporters, adding that this showed the confidence the Global South nations have in the organisation. "Twenty-two countries have formally approached the BRICS countries to become full members. There are an equal number of countries that have been informally enquiring about becoming BRICS members," Sooklal said. 

PHOTO/FILE - Cumbre BRICS
PHOTO/FILE - BRICS Summit

The BRICS group is seen as "a powerful force", Sooklal said, adding that they account for about 31.7% of global GDP, having surpassed the G-7, a forum of advanced democracies that includes the United States.  

Mikatekiso Kubayi, a researcher at the Institute for Global Dialogue at the University of South Africa, explained that the BRICS had generated high expectations. "You will recall that, from the beginning, BRICS was a grouping that was easily dismissed by many, particularly in the West, as being seen simply as a concept," Kubayi said, adding that this entity "has achieved a lot in the 15 years that it has existed".

On the other hand, in addition to providing better access to an important oil and gas market, Saudi Arabia's entry into the BRICS group means a window of opportunity for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa to access Gulf markets. Especially given the urgent need for the group's two largest economies, China and India, to access Gulf energy markets in order to sustain their strong economic growth and move towards global economic leadership. 

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