Malaysia’s BRICS aspiration promises economic benefits, says political analyst

Malaysia’s ambition of joining the intergovernmental organisation BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – is a strategic move that will benefit the Southeast Asian nation, says Associate Professor Dr Azeem Fazwan Ahmad Farouk.

BRICS was originally an association of five major emerging economies from different continents. It has expanded to include Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates as new members, as of Jan 1, 2024. Besides Malaysia, Thailand is also interested in joining BRICS.

“BRICS is an alternative to the Western bloc. It is a good move as Malaysia will align itself with countries with emerging economies,” said Azeem, director of the Centre for Policy Research, Universiti Sains Malaysia.

“We can be equal trading partners with these countries and have an opportunity to expand our export base. As it is, China is our biggest trading partner, followed by the United States.”

Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim recently revealed that the country would begin formal talks to join BRICS.

The term ‘BRICS’ was coined in 2001 by Western analyst Jim O’Neill, of Goldman Sachs, who studied the economic potential of the developing countries and said that these countries would determine the direction of the world economy and politics. In 2006, on the sidelines of the 61st session of the UN General Assembly in New York, the foreign ministers of Russia, Brazil and China and India’s defence minister held a special separate meeting to agree to develop diversified cooperation on a four-party platform.

Since then, certain quarters have painted the BRICS alliance as being “anti-West”, with China and Russia only interested in the world’s economy becoming less reliant on the US dollar.

Yury Ushakov, Russian presidential foreign policy aide, in an interview published in March, said that “BRICS does not compete with anyone. Nor does it challenge anyone. It is not an anti-Western association”.

Azeem said that while China’s economy is soaring and expanding to other countries, especially in Africa, there is still plenty of room for expansion.

“But the Indian economy is poised to thrive, and it would be good for Malaysia to be a part of BRICS as soon as possible,” he said.

“We also do considerable trade with Russia, and one of the benefits of being part of BRICS is that we can find other ways to do business that doesn’t involve using foreign currency.”

He cited the example of Malaysia using palm oil to partially pay for Russian fighter jets in 1993 and 2003.

“We also export a lot of palm oil to India. With its economic growth, we can perhaps use palm oil to pay for imports,” said Azeem.

Separately, Azeem said that besides joining BRICS, Malaysia must focus on upping its competitive edge as it is losing out to Indonesia and Vietnam.

Vietnam’s import and export of goods in April 2024 reached US$61.2 billion, an increase of 15 per cent over the same period in 2023. Its trade surplus in goods in the first four months reached US$8.4 billion.

Because of lower-than-expected imports, Indonesia reported a trade surplus of US$3.56 billion in April. However, it remains an attractive destination for foreign companies.

“We need to see how Indonesia and Vietnam are progressing and why they are attracting foreign companies to set up bases in their countries,” said Azeem.

“If we can offer more attractive packages to companies, it will benefit the economy.”

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