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Morocco applies to join BRICS, says SA official 

Morocco has formally applied to join the BRICS group of emerging economic powers, a South African government official has said.

As South Africa prepares to host the upcoming BRICS Summit, which is taking place from 22nd to 24th August in Johannesburg, Dr Naledi Pandor, the country’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, said that “BRICS leaders are expected to discuss the issue of membership expansion of BRICS.” 

She said that “the current geopolitical context has driven renewed interest in BRICS membership as countries of the global South look for alternatives in a multi-polar world” and noted that Rabat has now submitted a formal membership application. Other African countries – Algeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Senegal – have reportedly expressed interest in joining.

Morocco’s move to join BRICS – which currently consists of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – comes at a time when Moscow in particular has taken steps to further its influence in North Africa. Earlier in August, the Kremlin announced that negotiations have begun on drafting a free trade agreement between the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and four North African countries, including Morocco.

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Imad Harb, director of research and analysis at the Arab Center in Washington DC, says that Morocco’s application suggests “Morocco is sending a message politically that it does not have to be beholden to its ties to the West and is seeking alternative partners”. 

Harb tells African Business that this could also be an important economic development for Morocco as the country “is seeking more investment from BRICS, especially China, and more bilateral trade relations.”

“Morocco wants to benefit from the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), especially because its economy is a bit more modern than others on the African continent,” Harb adds, while “China can also benefit from phosphate exports.”

Ahmed Aboudouh, associate fellow at Chatham House and non-resident fellow with the Atlantic Council, also says that “economically, BRICS membership for Morocco means a lot.”

“It would facilitate more direct investments in the Moroccan market, more trade, and more additional financing and borrowing platforms on favourable terms. In addition, it gives an unprecedented opportunity for Moroccan businesses to access some of the world’s biggest markets. Morocco would also benefit from importing high-tech from China and India as part of its bid to become a leading African technological hub,” Aboudouh tells African Business.

He also adds that “politically, it would cement Moroccan ties with heavyweights like China, India, and Russia and serve as a recognition of Morocco as a rising middle power on the international stage.”

However, it would be an overstatement to suggest that Morocco is diplomatically aligning with China and Russia at the expense of its Western relationships. Aboudouh says that “nobody in North Africa is suggesting that this is part of a realignment strategy.”

“The US and France are, and will remain, the region’s biggest external political and security players,” Aboudouh says. “This is not about choosing between BRICS or Western cheques.”

Harb also believes that “joining BRICS today is no more than a cost-free hedging move by states trying to find a potential alternative to the US-dominated international system.”

“In its current conditions and structure, BRICS cannot be thought of as a challenge to the West, no matter what the states striving to join it think or how they convince themselves it will benefit them,” he says.

“Besides, Morocco does not really have to join it – it is a choice policymakers have made just to appear as hedging, in case there are problems with the West in the future.”

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