​A BRICST in the making

By Sabena Siddiqui
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, August 8, 2018
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The BRICS leaders pose for a group photo with leaders or representatives of the leaders from invited countries, and heads of regional organizations in Africa in Johannesburg, South Africa, July 27, 2018. Chinese President Xi Jinping made a speech to an outreach dialogue grouping leaders from the BRICS, the "BRICS Plus" and African countries at the 10th BRICS summit here on Friday. [Photo/Xinhua]

At the recent BRICS summit, Turkish President Erdogan urged the member countries to facilitate his country's admission to the group, saying: "If you take us in, the name of the platform would become BRICST." 

With substantial economic potential, the five countries forming BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) presently account for 23 percent of the world's GDP, and the IMF expects this to rise to 26.8 percent by the year 2022. Thus, it's no surprise that more countries wish to join the bloc. 

Inviting leaders of various emerging economies for top-level talks preceding any extension, the summit host, South Africa, had arranged a specific meeting to create an effective mechanism for cooperation. 

Aiming to diversify Turkey's options, Erdogan wishes to extend links and increase leverage beyond the West, even though being perceived as part of the Western bloc has long provided it with relevance as well as an economic cachet. 

Currently facing the threat of American sanctions and seemingly stuck in a never- ending EU membership process, Turkey seeks to strike a balance by becoming part of the more forward-thinking BRICS instead. A member of NATO since 1952, it has the second largest army within the group, yet is not integrated completely into the Western defence system due to a somewhat different perspective of military priorities. 

Nevertheless, the EU countries would never wish Turkey to leave NATO as the U.S. – via President Trump – already complains about the alliance's costly maintenance and would like other members to foot the bill.

Ostensibly, Turkey will not have to leave the NATO after joining the BRICS, because the latter places no such stipulation on new members to leave other organizations. At the end of the day, Turkey seeks to emerge as a multi-dimensional global power that remains a "much wanted" country in both the West and the East. 

As Dr. A. Kadir Yildrim, from the Baker Institute of Public Policy, has observed: "Maintaining relations with the West while seeking alternative arrangements suits Erdogan's long-standing motivation of being a bridge between the East and the West." 

Thus, it can be expected that ambiguous neutrality will continue to be the linchpin of Turkey's foreign policy.

On the economic front, instability in Turkey's neighborhood has adversely affected its exports and created a chronic current account deficit; hence, gaining access to new markets will help it regain sustainable economic growth. 

BRICS countries happen to be particularly important as Turkey's imports from these five countries are currently valued at $53.4 billion a year, while its exports to the same countries only reach $7.3 billion. It has been calculated that 60 percent of Turkey's overall trade deficit is, in fact, caused by BRICS countries. 

These days, the Turkish government and business community is exploring export options to increase market presence in these countries. Significantly, Turkey would also gain access to BRICS financial resources and vast pool of raw materials even as the lira continues to dip amid U.S. sanctions.

In addition, Turkey also wishes to become a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, where, again, it would be lined up alongside Russia, China and India, as well as being part of the Belt and Road Initiative. Already a part of the G-20, along with the five existing BRICS members, Turkey wants to join them as an official member instead of being affiliated under the existing BRICS+ arrangement so as to be able to play an active role and contribute in policy making and determining the group's direction. 

Turkey's request to join has been well received by the member nations; especially China has been in favor of the BRICS+ initiative and broadening international partnerships for some time. 

Spanning Europe as well as Asia, Turkey would be the first Muslim country to join BRICS, raising its importance in the international Islamic community of nations. Nowadays, Erdogan is also the current chairman of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. 

Focusing on the threat to global trade at this year's event, the BRICS members underscored the importance of an open economy enabling more countries to avail themselves of the opportunities provided by globalization; hence, it can be safely said that the group membership is going to keep on growing. 

Setting a broad-based agenda, discussing climate change, counter terrorism and regional security along with innovative multi-pronged strategies for BRICS constituencies at home and abroad, this group can eventually bring about a change in global economic governance, perhaps ultimately replacing the G7 grouping of industrialized countries in terms of importance.

Sabena Siddiqui (Twitter: @sabena_siddiqi) is a foreign affairs journalist and lawyer based in Pakistan.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.

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