Previously, Iran announced its interest in joining the BRICS group, which is comprised of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.
“Iran supports the BRICS group and is prepared for membership and presence in the BRICS's fund,” an Iranian delegate told a Brazilian delegate in a meeting on the sidelines of the 2013 Annual Meetings of the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund in Washington.
Iran has enjoyed friendly relations with the BRICS countries, despite the recent so-called crippling sanctions. It has even used some of its BRICS connections to resist or circumvent the embargoes, and reciprocally, some BRICS countries have used Iran's geostrategic clout to promote their agendas or have benefited from Iran's large market in the implementation of their economic plans.
In such an atmosphere, Iran’s accession to the BRICS group would help to increase Iran’s integration into a large part of the world economy, strengthen its capability to neutralize the burden of sanctions, and provide many opportunities for BRICS companies to offer their products in Iran’s market. Also, the BRICS group can increase its political-strategic clout by allowing Iran to join the club.
Accession to the BRICS would make Iran an official hub of power in the Global South and in the Middle East and would raise its profile in the international arena.
However, there are some feasibility problems on this path. First of all, Iran has a large economy, not an emerging one.
Iran is the second largest economy in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region in terms of GDP -- $484 billion in 2012 (after Saudi Arabia) and the second largest country in terms of population -- 78 million people (after Egypt). It ranks 18th (in PPP terms) in the world GDP rankings, second in the world in natural gas reserves, and third in oil reserves, according to the World Bank. So, it is not a major player in the world economy, but it is a big player. It's not an emerging economy, at least for the time being, especially with the current divestment-sanctions initiatives imposed on it by the United Nations and the European Union.
Moreover, Iran’s economy is a mixture of central planning, state ownership of the oil sector, and small-scale private trading and service ventures. So, it's a government-based economy rather than a market-based economy, and this could cause some problems during the accession process.
Iranian officials have repeatedly announced that they have adopted a comprehensive strategy envisioning market-based reforms, as reflected in the government’s 20-Year Vision plan and Iran’s Fifth Five-Year Development Plan (2010–15) and the recent anti-stagflation policy package, but the previous experiences show that there is a strong probability that a great portion of these plans will fail. So, the BRIICS -- Brazil, Russia, India, Iran, China, and South Africa -- may be politically and strategically feasible, but economically it may be counter-productive for the group.
Iran’s two economic problems, namely that it does not have a flourishing emerging economy and does not have a market-based economy, are the key factors in regard to an Iran-BRICS linkage. In light of these difficulties, the BRIICS would just be a political club.
Tohid Atashbar is a researcher at the Department of Planning and Budgeting of Iran's Majlis (Parliament) Research Center.
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