The decision of the G20 economies to admit the African Union as a permanent member at the Group’s 2023 meeting in India comes at a time when many observers started to question the relevance and effectiveness of this global forum. The admission of the AU is a step in the right direction and needs to be followed by further openness of the G20 to other regional integration blocks and regional organizations, including regional development institutions. A greater outreach to the rest of the global community will allow for a reinvigoration of the G20 platform, particularly if the economic potential of regionalism is used to strengthen the capabilities of global economic institutions.
The accession of the AU into G20 comes after a rising number of academics and policy-makers in 2022-2023 called for addressing the lack of inclusivity on the part of the G20 with respect to the developing world and Africa in particular. Back in 2018 I suggested that “there is no reason why the EU should end up being the only regional block represented in the G-20 framework” – my proposal was for other regional blocs (including those from Africa) to become part of the G20 platform. Henceforth, in 2019-2022 I repeatedly called for the African Union to become a member of the regional platform of the G20 as well as its permanent member alongside the EU.
Apart from the greater representation of Africa and the Global South in the G20 forum, another significance of AU’s admission to the Group of 20 is that it creates greater scope for synergies and closer cooperation between globalism (global institutions and platforms such as the IMF, World Bank, WTO, G20) and regionalism (regional integration blocs, regional development banks and regional financing arrangements). If other regional blocs do become part of the G20 platform, there will then be scope for these blocs to work more closely with the WTO, while regional development institutions could coordinate their operations with the IMF and the World bank.
After India the next G20 chairmanship is passed on to Brazil and then to South Africa – all BRICS members. This will be the opportunity for BRICS to increase their coordination within G20 and to further expand the possibilities for greater representation of the Global South in this global platform. The latter may be attained via creating a platform for regional integration arrangements in which G20 economies are members. Both Brazil and South Africa perform crucial regional roles in the respective regional blocs – MERCOSUR and the AU respectively. This may create scope for these BRICS members to advance the creation of a forum for regional integration arrangements within the G20 – a regional 20 (R20) that would bring together the main regional blocks of the global economy.
The inclusion of the AU into the G20 will have an important bearing on the future evolution of BRICS+. The choice this year for the expansion of the bloc was via adding new countries to the core, with the theme of regional integration blocs becoming parts of the BRICS+ platform being essentially ignored. With rising signs of the West starting to actively sway national economies and regional blocs of the Global South into the G20, competing connectivity projects and the G7 outreach formats, the pressure will be on the BRICS bloc to widen the scope of BRICS+ to allow for more developing economies and regional arrangements to be included into the platform. Further one-by-one additions of individual countries to the BRICS core will most likely be insufficient to keep up with increased “Global South diplomacy” activism on the part of advanced economies. The BRICS will need to employ the “integration of integrations” tool more actively in order to attain greater scale, speed and scope in the outreach to the Global South.
Indeed, if the G20 moves in the direction of incorporating more regional integration blocs, there will then need to be action from BRICS+ to create a platform for regional arrangements in order to improve policy coordination of the Global South in the G20. The creation of a regional platform within BRICS+ would also allow the bloc to be more competitive in extending its outreach to such important regional groupings as ASEAN – thus far Indonesia that is a key member of ASEAN and its only representative in the G20 has opted to stay outside of the BRICS core. In terms of the future evolution of the BRICS+ format a lot will depend on Russia’s BRICS chairmanship next year – the hope is that opportunities to extend the BRICS outreach to the developing world will not be wasted as they were back in 2019-2021 when no BRICS+ meetings were undertaken.