BRICS: A Global Trade Power in a Multipolar World

04 September 2014

The BRICS have played an important role at moments in slowing down neoliberal trade policy, but do not depart from a global trade model that has yielded great profits for a few major transnational companies and witnessed a race to the bottom in term of wages, working conditions, and environmental protection.

Transnational Institute’s (TNI) Shifting Power Working Paper Series seeks to help movements navigate our changing multipolar world as well as provide an invaluable source of alternative analysis for students, analysts and journalists.

BRICS: A global trade power in a multi-polar world

Central to the narrative of emerging powers, and particularly the BRICS, is the issue of trade, as both the driver of their economic surge, the factor behind their growing economies and the platform it has given them to assert influence in global governance. In the seminal paper from Goldman Sachs which gave birth to the BRIC acronym, world trade shares was one of the key parameters used to show the growing importance of these emerging powers. The BRICS share in world trade has increased significantly from 3.6 per cent in 1990 to 15per cent in 2010. Combined trade (exports and imports) now amount to $5.9 trillion.

Driving this surge is China. From a mere 1.6 per cent share of global trade in 1990, China’s share has increased rapidly, doubling every ten years. China’s current share of 9.2 per cent of global trade accounts for 61 per cent of the combined BRICS share of global trade.

The emergence of the BRICS has raised questions about the role these countries would play on their own and collectively in global trade and economic governance. This chapter examines BRICS trade policies, how these have been advanced in various platforms such as the WTO and bilateral trade negotiations, and whether or not the institutionalisation of the BRICS and their individual and collective actions constitute a break from the status quo, thereby opening up possibilities for more equitable alternatives.

While the chapter looks at the BRICS as whole, the analysis on Russia’s role within BRICS and how it has advanced the interest of the group is somewhat limited.


Afsar Jafri coordinates India office of Focus on the Global South. He works
on trade, agriculture and water related issues. He has also played an active role in the anti-WTO and FTA campaigns and is based in New Delhi.

Joseph Purugganan is a policy researcher and campaigner from the Philippines with Focus on the Global South.  He has written papers and articles on the WTO, FTAs, and broader trade and investment policy regime in the Philippines and Asia.  

Pablo Solon is the executive director of Focus on the Global South, based in Bangkok. He has had a long career as a social activist in his native Bolivia, and served as ambassador to the United Nations for the Evo Morales government from 2009-11.