“This knocking on the door is nothing new,” Soklal told reporters in Johannesburg on Thursday. “Twenty-two countries have formally contacted BRICS, and an equal number of informal approaches have been received,” he said.
BRICS, which created its own multilateral lending institution, was formed to act as a counterweight to the influence of developed countries in the global economic structure. While its members represent 42% of the world’s population, they have less than 15% of the voting rights in the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, according to the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies.
South Africa was initially accepted as “you can’t have a cosmopolitan southern body that excludes the African continent,” Soklal said, using a term to refer to developing nations as opposed to the industrialized northern powers of Europe and North America.
Soklal and his counterparts discussed earlier this month four broad areas that must be addressed in deciding on criteria for expansion. He said those details would be taken up at a meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers later on Thursday.
“Argentina, all the countries of the great south” have applied, he said, adding that Bangladesh, the United Arab Emirates, Iran and Saudi Arabia have expressed interest, as well as some European countries. “They are heavyweights.”
In a note to clients, the Eurasia Group said that while China and South Africa support expansion and Russia should go along with China, Brazil and India are concerned that their influence will diminish and may oppose expansion. She said they “will instead support keeping interested countries as ‘observers'”.
South Africa will host this year’s BRICS summit next month and has invited 69 world leaders to attend related events, which indicates the bloc’s interest in strengthening its influence, according to Soklal.
On Wednesday, South Africa said that Russian President Vladimir Putin would not attend in person, averting a possible crisis that has hit South Africa’s currency and bond markets. If South Africa, as a member of the ICC, attended, he would have to arrest him.
“It shows the maturity and strength of the partnership,” Soklal said. “Putin understood the dilemma and did not want to jeopardize the summit.”
Soklal said Putin would participate in all sessions and deliver a speech, although he would send his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, to represent Russia.
Putin’s possible arrival has added to tensions between South Africa and some of its largest trading partners, the United States and members of the European Union, who are angered by the African country’s refusal to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The South African military also held exercises with the Russian navy on the first anniversary of the war, and the US ambassador in Pretoria said weapons were loaded onto a Russian ship at a naval base in Cape Town.
Those tensions have prompted South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to send some of his top ministers to the US in an effort to preserve the country’s eligibility for duty-free shipments of goods to the US under the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which expires in 2025. Last year, South Africa exported $2.7 billion in goods to the US using AGOA and the so-called Generalized System of Preferences.
“There was appreciation” for South Africa’s interpretation of our non-aligned position, Zane Dangor, director general of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, said at the news conference. “It was reasonably successful,” he said of the trip.