Leaders of the BRICS group have invited Saudi Arabia, Iran, Ethiopia, Egypt, Argentina and the United Arab Emirates to join – a move aimed at increasing the influence of the bloc, which has vowed to defend the “global south”, Reuters reported.

The expansion could also pave the way for dozens of interested countries seeking to enter BRICS – currently with members Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – at a time when geopolitical polarization is fueling efforts by Beijing and Moscow to make it a viable counterweight to the West.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is hosting a summit of BRICS leaders, announced on Thursday that the new candidates would be accepted as members on January 1, 2024.

The enlargement debate is high on the agenda at the three-day summit in Johannesburg. And while all BRICS members have publicly expressed support for the bloc’s expansion, there have been divisions among leaders over to what extent and how quickly it should happen.

Despite being home to around 40% of the world’s population and a quarter of global gross domestic product, the failure of BRICS members to achieve a coherent vision for the bloc has long underperformed as a global political and economic player.

More than 40 countries have expressed interest in joining BRICS, South African officials say, and 22 have requested formal admission. Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva commented that the interest of other countries in joining the organization shows how relevant its pursuit of a new world economic order is.

“We will remain open to new candidates,” Lula told a press conference in Johannesburg.

The expansion of BRICS will give a new impetus to the cooperation mechanism of the group, Chinese President Xi Jinping said for his part.

This expansion reflects BRICS’ determination for unity and cooperation, Xi added.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said in a post on social media platform X that the BRICS decision to invite Ethiopia to join was a “great moment” and that his country wanted to cooperate for an “inclusive and prosperous global order”.

During the summit, the BRICS also approved a resolution to explore in the future the creation of a “new payment currency”.