Iran has been ramping up trade with members of the BRICS group, as Tehran looks to join the five-nation alliance that is often seen as an alternative to the Western economic and political hegemony.
BRICS is comprised of the emerging economies of Brazil, China, India, Russia and South Africa. The alliance accounts for 42% of the global population and about 26% of the world’s economy, according to the South Africa-based Institute for Security Studies.
Iran’s state-run Tasnim news agency on Wednesday reported that the value of the Persian country’s non-oil trade with BRICS members hit $38.43 billion in the 2022-2023 fiscal year, a 14% increase compared to the same period a year earlier, according to data from the Islamic Republic of Iran Customs Administration (IRICA).
China is Iran’s main trading partner in the BRICS alliance, accounting for $30.32 billion worth of trade, followed by India ($4.99 billion), Russia ($2.32 billion), Brazil ($466.55 million) and South Africa ($322.04 million), the IRICA data showed.
Iran, which holds the world’s second-largest gas reserves, first announced its intention to join the bloc in June 2022.
“I think Iran seeking to join BRICS reflects the supreme leader’s worldview of the increasingly multipolar world order,” Jason Brodsky, a nonresident scholar at the Middle East Institute, told Al-Monitor.
“This is especially true in its attempt to create a financial channel insulated from Western pressure as a part of its resistance economy concept. With Tehran’s deepening partnerships with Russia and China, increasingly warm relations with Brazil especially after Lula’s election, and India and South Africa hedging with the war in Ukraine, it likely senses an opportunity to join such a bloc.”
But since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that saw the toppling of the US-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Iran has been ostracized by the West and its economy has been hampered by a series of international sanctions.
Brodsky said that an Iranian ascension to BRICS would not change the fact that US sanctions remain in place and all of these countries are risking exposure to them.
“It may help Tehran diplomatically, but economically the gains would be much more modest,” he added.
Iran is not the only country in the region that is looking to join BRICS. Five Arab nations have formally requested to join the group: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Tunisia is also rumored to be interested in joining, although the government has not officially confirmed a bid.
BRICS foreign ministers will hold an annual summit in the South African city of Cape Town in early June to discuss membership applications.