Move over BRICS, the “Next Eleven” has emerged

Twelve years after being named the next global economic powerhouses, the Brazilian, Russian, Indian, Chinese and South African governments, also known as the BRICS economies, have decided to embrace a de facto union, and had numerous economic meetings between the countries’ leaders. The group demands international attention. Brazil can offer the world enormous amounts of agricultural goods, China is the world’s second largest economy with a massive cheap labour force, India offers itself as a source of inexpensive intellectual resources, and Russia is now the world’s largest mineral exporter. The group are now considering making a formal alliance, following a meeting of all five countries in Durban.[1] Such a move would most likely create one of the world’s most powerful unions of the twenty-first century, and surely the most diverse we have seen thus far.

However, emerging economic might is not confined solely to the BRICS, and there are many more countries waiting in line to join BRICS. In fact, according to former Goldman Sachs chairman and the man who first identified the BRIC, Jim O’Neil, eleven of them are of particular note. [2]   Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Turkey, South Korea, and Vietnam are the countries Goldman Sachs in 2005 identified as the “Next 11” (N-11), the next in line to become economic powerhouses. The criteria they used involved was the stability of the countries’ politics and fiscal and monetary policy. Also considered was the amount of trade barriers each country imposed. Quality of education in each country was another key factor. Having passed these tests in varying degrees, it is intriguing to think that these eleven countries could one day become as influential as the BRICS, particularly in the investment sector, and could have a significant say in worldwide GDP.

Despite this, it is difficult to envisage the N-11 cooperating as closely together as what the BRICS currently are.

Firstly, the N-11 is really a ‘motley’s crew’ of countries, even more so than the BRICS. The N-11 nations have much more diverse range of living standards and GDPs. Even countries with similar sized economies and income levels, have vastly different industry emphasises. South Korea topped the list, which is hardly a surprise as the very high-income economy has been long considered one of the “Four Asian Tigers” (along with Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore), for its ability to sustain high economic growth rates (in excess of 7% per year).[3] This is largely due to South Korea’s embrace of free trade and its strong electronics and telecommunications industry. Mexico, on the other hand, whilst its economy is not quite as large as South Korea’s, is an advanced emerging market with an emphasis on agriculture, food and beverage exports and tourism. Samsung and Kia motors drive Seoul forward, whilst the Mastretta and the allure of Mexico’s beaches and lifestyle earn big for Mexico. It is hard to see how these two nations could find a common interest significant enough to justify BRICS-like relationship.

Secondly, there are far greater cultural differences between these nations, and even those with similar cultures, disagree with each other’s foreign policy. Iran is endowed with large oil reserves and with a huge labour force. Despite this, the authoritarian leadership in Iran stifles economic growth, as it imposes price controls and subsidies which prop up inefficient industries. The Iranian theocracy has closed the country to foreign investors. Further, Iran’s relations with the West have led to crippling sanctions, particularly on its oil exports. By contrast, just over the border, Turkey is a far more open economy, exporting textiles and transportation materials to Europe and the rest of the world. Increasingly, Turkey is finding itself as the host of many international events, and is currently bidding for the right to host the 2020 European Football Championships, which would bring another large injection of tourist dollars into the economy. Turkey’s secular democracy, and especially its NATO membership, has often been the cause of agitation toward Turkey in Iran. Iranian defense officials have been quoted stating that they will strike Turkey, if Israel or the US ever attacks the Islamic Republic.

Despite their differences there are many examples of these countries working together economically. Turkey and Iran have the Tabriz-Ankara oil pipeline, with another “Persian Pipeline” planned, in order to connect Iran’s gas fields to Turkey and then to European markets. N-11 countries, Indonesia and the Philippines have put aside past territorial disputes in the Sulawesi Sea and their religious differences, and increased trade with each other by more the triple what it was in 2003.[4] The one thing the N-11 countries all have in common is that they all have enormous populations, and so they do not currently see an immediate need to form a BRICS-like union to influence the global economy. Further down the track however, we could see variations of the N-11 coming together, such as the emergence of a stronger MIST (Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey) or CIVET (Columbia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey) union.[5] Just when the BRICS were getting comfortable with idea of being the new kids on the block, they themselves could become yesterday’s news.