With the admission of six countries to the BRICS at the Johannesburg summit, weight of the group at the international level has increased, but along with this what has essentially got a push has been its cooperation mechanism--all this, among member countries
The leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa met in Johannesburg, South Africa on August 22-24 for the 15th BRICS summit. This was the first in-person summit of the group since 2019. The summit took place in the backdrop of a major geopolitical flux, Covid pandemic and the Ukraine conflict.
The summit concluded with the landmark decision to include six new members – Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates. This move showcases the BRICS forum as an inclusive grouping of the Global South.
The origin of BRICS can be traced back to a seminal paper written by Jim O’Niell, chief economist of the investment firm Goldman Sachs in 2001. He coined the acronym BRIC representing the four important emerging economies- Brazil, Russia, India, and China.
The political grouping BRIC came into existence with the first summit held at Yekaterinburg, Russia in 2009. The group was renamed as BRICS and expanded to include South Africa during the third Sanya summit at China in 2011.
The importance of the group stems from the fact that it represents 41 percent of the global population, 24 percent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 16 percent of the global trade. While set up initially to discuss economic matters, in the last 15 years the group has enhanced cooperation on three pillars of political and security, economic and financial, and cultural and people to people cooperation.
At the 15th BRICS summit held under the theme “BRICS and Africa: Partnership for mutually accelerated, sustainable development and inclusive multilateralism” leaders reaffirmed their intent to enhance their partnership and work towards promoting “peace, reformed multilateralism, sustainable development and inclusive growth.” The 26-page long Johannesburg Declaration put forward several issues of focus and concern for the BRICS countries.
However, ten areas need to be highlighted. First, the group reiterated the central role of the United Nation (UN) to maintain global peace, security and development. It called for comprehensive reform of the UN and the Security Council in particular, to make it more democratic and representative.
Second, it called for peaceful resolution of disputes and expressed concern regarding the situation in Sudan, Niger, Libya, Syria, and Haiti. As expected, there is no reference to the Ukraine conflict in the document.
Third, the declaration called for further deepening of counter- terrorism cooperation amongst the BRICS nations.
Fourth, it noted the impact of the pandemic of global economic growth and called for collective efforts to reduce high debt levels in some countries. It called for timely implementation of the G20 Common Framework for Debt Treatment.
Fifth, the leaders called for greater cooperation between the African Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) and BRICS to push African development. 
Sixth, the declaration also noted the BRICS member states' support for the inclusion of the African Union as a member of G20.
Seventh, the BRICs countries, recognised the role of New Development Bank, commonly known as BRICS bank and announced the inclusion of three new members of the bank, i.e., Bangladesh, Egypt, and United Arab Emirates.
Eighth, the declaration urged for technology transfer and climate finance to mitigate the challenges faced by the developing countries.
Nineth, BRICS countries emphasised their efforts to deal with global pandemic prevention and support for the BRICS Virtual Vaccine Research and Development Centre.
Finally, the group reaffirmed their combined efforts towards clean energy and space cooperation.
The most important announcement made during the Johannesburg summit was regarding the much-debated expansion of the group. During the South African presidency, the member states have been deliberating on the criteria for inclusion of fresh members.
President Cyril Ramaphosa announced Argentina, Ethiopia, Egypt, Iran, UAE, and Saudi Arabia as the six new members. They are expected to join the group in January 2024. The inclusion of Saudi Arabia and UAE will definitely add to the economic importance of the group.
Saudi Arabia, UAE and Iran are members of Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) though Iran’s oil exports are under United States (US) sanctions.  Argentina is a leading economy in South America.  Ethiopia, prior to the internal conflict and COVID pandemic was recognised as one of fastest growing economies in Africa while Egypt, is a leading regional power in North Africa.
India has welcomed the expansion of BRICS through a consensus- based approach. However, the fact that each of the new entrants have close relations with China indicates dominance of Beijing within the group.
With the entry of Iran, the BRICS plus group is increasingly perceived as a counter to the US led world order.  No doubt, the expansion of the group also indicates the inclusiveness and unity of the Global South. Nevertheless, the reality is that despite efforts to develop consensus and a sense of unity, the group represents diverse viewpoints. The BRICS plus may face the challenge of maintaining cohesiveness in future.
*** The writer is a Consultant at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi; views expressed here are her own