Cape Town (Reuters) – Senior officials from more than a dozen countries, including Saudi Arabia and Iran, were in talks on forging closer links with the BRICS bloc of major emerging economies on Friday as it met to deepen ties and position itself as a counterweight to the West.
BRICS, which now consists of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, is considering expanding its membership, and a growing number of countries have expressed interest in joining.
Once viewed as a loose association of disparate emerging economies, BRICS has in recent years taken more concrete shape, driven initially by China and, since the start of the Ukraine war in February 2022, with added impetus from Russia.
In remarks opening Friday’s discussions, host South Africa’s Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor spoke of the bloc as a champion of the developing world, which she said was abandoned by wealthy states and global institutions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The world has faltered in cooperation. Developed countries have never met their commitments to the developing world and are trying to shift all responsibility to the global South,” Pandor said.
Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Comoros, Gabon, and Kazakhstan all sent representatives to Cape Town for so-called “Friends of BRICS” talks, an official programme showed.
Egypt, Argentina, Bangladesh, Guinea-Bissau and Indonesia were participating virtually.
Other countries echoed Pandor’s condemnation of wealthy states. Democratic Republic of Congo’s foreign minister said developed countries lacked the political will to promote collective peace and prosperity.
“My country…exhorts the BRICS countries to bring change and the creation of a new international order,” Congolese foreign minister Christophe Lutundula Apala said in a statement.
Iran’s foreign ministry said in a statement that it wished to join the bloc, and hoped the mechanism for new membership would be decided “at the earliest”.
China said last year it wanted the bloc to start a process to admit new members. And other members have pointed to countries they would like to see join. However, officials said on Thursday there was still work to be done and appeared mindful of the need to proceed carefully.
Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said Thursday’s talks had included deliberations on the guiding principles, standards, criteria and procedures of what an expanded BRICS bloc would look like.
“This is still work in progress,” he said.
South Africa’s Pandor said the foreign ministers were aiming to complete work on a framework for admitting new members before BRICS leaders meet at a summit in Johannesburg in August.
Preparations for that summit are going forward under a cloud of controversy due to the possible attendance of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is the target of a warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
As an ICC member, South Africa would face pressure to arrest Putin were he to travel to the summit. Pretoria has said it is still considering its legal options for hosting him.