Could New BRICS Member Argentina Become First Country to Receive a Full-Scale BRICS Bailout?

The country is once again in deep crisis mode, with decades high inflation, a crumbling currency and no foreign currency reserves. It is shackled to the IMF but now faces the possibility of being able to tap alternative sources of finance.

What a difference a day can make. On Wednesday afternoon, it seemed that Argentina would not be admitted to the BRICS grouping following months of speculation that it was a virtual shove in. Mercopress even reported that Argentina’s President Alberto Fernández had called off his scheduled trip to Johannesburg to attend the summit after learning that his country would not be joining the BRICS during this round of admissions.

By Wednesday evening, news outlets around the world were reporting that Argentina was no longer on the list. One of the key participants of the Argentine government’s visit to the IMF’s HQ in Washington this week said “the Fund and the BRICS are two very different families,” suggesting a clash of interests between one group and the other. Even as late as Wednesday night, Reuters was reporting that divisions persisted among BRICS members on how much to expand the bloc’s membership and how quickly:

An agreement had been meant to be adopted following a plenary session earlier on Wednesday, but the source said it had been delayed after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi introduced new admission criteria.

Asked about the delay, an Indian official aware of the details of the talks told Reuters late on Wednesday that the discussion were continuing.

“Yesterday … India pushed for consensus on criteria as well as the issue of (candidate) names. There was a broad understanding,” he said.

By Thursday morning, that “broad understanding” had given way to full, unanimous agreement. For the first time since late 2010, the BRICS’ doors was open to new members, those members being Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Egypt, Ethiopia and Argentina. Four countries from the Middle East, a region that until now the US and Western Europe have collectively dominated for over a century and another from Africa (though Egypt is also, of course, an African country). Look at a map and you will see what the Rev Kev noted in comments yesterday:

[T]he Persian Gulf is now flanked on both sides by BRICS members as is the Suez Canal. And Ethiopia seems to be in a pretty strategic place too for that matter.

Half a World Away

The other new member, Argentina, is half a world away. And for the umpteenth time, it is in the grip of a very serious financial crisis.

Though much anticipated, the enlargement of the BRICS will have myriad potentially game-changing ramifications. The fact that three of the six countries (Saudi Arabia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates) are among the world’s eight biggest oil producers while another, Argentina, could (and should) become a major natural gas exporter in the coming years is a sobering reminder of the enduring importance of fossil fuels.

The BRICS alliance now includes two of the world’s three preeminent oil producers, Saudi Arabia (#2) and Russia (#3), which will probably further erode the influence of the US (#1) over global energy markets in the future. Also hugely significant as well as welcome is the fact that Iran and Saudi Arabia, two countries whose bitter rivalry has played an important part in destabilising the Middle East in recent decades, appear to have put their differences aside to join the BRICS. Lest we forget, it was Beijing that brokered the initial reconciliation between the two regional powers.

There are many other wide ranging ramifications of the BRICS enlargement (some of which were discussed in this cross-posted piece by Andrew Korybko), but for the sake of this article, I am only interested in exploring one: the possibility that Argentina, once again in deep crisis mode, could soon become the first recipient of a full-scale BRICS bailout.

The country is grappling with inflation of over 100% as well as an acute dollar shortage after a historic drought caused total agricultural losses of €17.6 billion, or 3% of Argentine GDP. In fact, it would have probably already defaulted on its $44 billion IMF bailout if it hadn’t been for the $18.2 billion currency swap arrangement Argentina’s government signed with Beijing back in April, which enabled it to continue servicing the debt.

In recent weeks, Argentina, a country wearily accustomed to upheaval, has been rocked by multiple political and economic shocks. First came the news that Javier Milei, a fake libertarian populist with close ties to Koch-sponsored think tanks as well as one of Argentina’s richest monopolists, had come out on top of the recent primary elections, largely on the back of widespread disaffection with the two mainstream parties. Milei is promising to “burn down” the central bank, put the Argentine peso out of its misery and fully replace it with the US dollar, privatise all assets still in the public domain, endorse sanctions on Russia and realign Argentina’s foreign and economic policies with the US and Israel.

Shortly after the elections, the outgoing Alberto Fernández government devalued the Argentine peso by 18% and raised the benchmark interest rate by 21 percentage points to 118%, which will inevitable push Argentina’s three-digit inflation rate (113 % at last count) even closer to hyper inflationary levels. Reuters described the government’s two measures as “politically costly moves amid a presidential campaign.” This is especially true given that the man who executed them, Economy Minister Sergio Massa, is the governing Peronist coalition’s candidate in the presidential election.

Eerie Echoes of 2001

So it has transpired. The spectre of even faster rising prices, especially of food and other essentials, has allegedly triggered a wave of looting in cities such as Mendoza, Cordoba and Nequen that bear eerie echoes of the chaos that gripped Argentina during the economic crisis of 2001-02. I use the word “allegedly” because some government figures deny that the looting is happening, insisting that the images are fake and are being generated by opposition forces intent on further destabilising the country. From El País on Wednesday:

The governor of the province of Buenos Aires, the Peronist Axel Kicillof, has pointed to “an organised campaign” that began at the weekend spreading “false denunciations” and “fake images”… The presidential spokesperson, Gabriela Cerruti, went a step further. “This is an operation carried out by the people of Javier Milei, whose objective is to destabilise, generate uncertainty and undermine democracy,” she said in a live broadcast on Tuesday night.

Argentina’s latest devaluation of its currency and hike in interest rates is seen as positive by the IMF and Wall Street. As Mexico’s El Financiero reported, Bank of America strategists called the devaluation “broadly positive” given the currency was “highly overvalued”, and said it was good that the current government was bearing the burden of some of the necessary macroeconomic adjustment. “It should be favourable to the IMF deal pending IMF Board approval for a $7.5 billion loan disbursement,” they wrote.

And so it proved to be. On Wednesday, the Fund approved the disbursement of $7.5 billion for Argentina after completing the fifth and sixth reviews of their $44 billion program, which is essentially a 2020 restructuring of the $57 billion bailout requested by Macri in 2018.

That Massa was in Washington negotiating another instalment in Argentina’s IMF loan at the same time that the five original BRICS members were debating whether to admit Argentina as a new member speaks volumes about Argentina’s current place in the world. It is shackled to the IMF, an institution with which it has a long, painful relationship and to whom it still owes $46 billion, making it the IMF’s largest debtor. But it also faces the possibility, for now undefined, of being able to tap a new source of funding, from the BRICS’ New Development Bank.

Brazil Already on Board

In June, Massa and Central Bank Governor Miguel Pesce visited Beijing, where they signed a cooperation plan to jointly promote the construction of the Belt and Road Initiative. Massa was also told by New Development Bank President Dilma Rousseff, a key ally to current Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, that the road was clear for Argentina to join the entity and thus be able to obtain financial backing in the near future.

Clearly, Brazil’s government is already on board with such a plan. President Lula appears to have played an instrumental role in securing Argentina’s BRICS membership. In a speech on Wednesday he emphasised both the importance of Argentina’s membership as well as the dark role played by the IMF in subjugating many of the world’s struggling economies:

When the financial crisis hit in 2008, the IMF was nowhere to be seen. It even seemed that it did not exist. Now, when there’s a crisis in any small country, whether in Africa or Latin America, the IMF makes forecasts, it talks, it meddles, when in reality it should help but it doesn’t. The money it puts up is like a strait jacket. The country is shackled and cannot extricate itself.

Look at the situation in Argentina, how difficult it is due to a loan that was awarded on the basis of the IMF’s own political interests — the €44 billion lent to Macri during the 2018 elections. There are those who say in Argentina that the money was lent so that Macri would win the elections. He didn’t win, Alberto Fernández did, and Alberto ended up with the debt that he now has to pay off.

And now we know Argentina’s predicament. It had a very severe drought resulting in the loss of 25% of its agriculture. And I, for one, support our Argentine brothers and sisters’ application to join the BRICS. We are going to see what comes out of the meeting. And I support it, whether it’s in a month, or two months’ time. And I support it. It is very important that Argentina is in the BRICS. Brazil cannot carry out an industrial development policy without counting on Argentina, which is a country that must grow together with Brazil.

Brazil’s government has been sounding the alarm about the risk of another Argentine debt crisis for some months now. In late May, the finance minister Fernando Haddad attended a meeting of the New Development Bank to lobby for alternative sources of funding for Argentina. According to Bloomberg, an anonymous official described Argentina as “a regional partner that’s too big to collapse, but not relevant enough on the global stage to convince the IMF or even China to mobilise the additional resources the country urgently needs.”

One option proposed by Haddad involved one of the five BRICS member nations making a capital contribution to the NDB, allowing part of these funds to be used for specific development projects for countries outside the bloc. This would go some way to alleviating the financial pressure on the reserves of the Central Bank of Argentina. For the moment, the outcome of Haddad’s lobbying is not clear. Crucially, Brazil is just one of five — and from Jan 1 next year, 11 (or perhaps 10) — BRICS members, and any disbursement of funds would require their full approval.

The latest disbursement of IMF funds buys Argentina a little extra time. But much of the money is being used to pay back the Fund for the original 2018 bailout program. Part of it will also be used to pay back some of the latest $1.7 billion swap payment from China, which enabled Argentina to continue servicing its IMF debt in the first place. Before the latest disbursement from the IMF, Argentina’s government had managed to secure a $775 million loan with Qatar as well as a $1 billion bridge loan from regional development bank CAF.

It is unlikely to receive any financial assistance from the BRICS’ multilateral lenders for some time to come, assuming it ever does, for two reasons: first, the new BRICS members do not officially join the club until Jan 1, 2024; and second: two of the three candidates in Argentina’s upcoming presidential election, on Oct 22, Javier Milei and Particia Bullrich, have both rejected the Fernández government’s decision to join the BRICS in the first place. Milei, the front-runner, said his government would only have relations with nations that respect liberty, peace, democracy and free trade while Bullrich said she would pull out of the alliance altogether.

If the first round of elections does not produce an outright winner, which is quite likely given this is a closely contested three-horse race, a second round will take place some time in mid to late November. In other words, Argentina’s BRICS membership may not be assured for another three months. And if Milei or Bullrich win, it may never happen at all. Even if Massa wins, he will

But since the announcement of Argentina’s BRICS membership, the Sergio Massa campaign potentially has an ace up its sleeves: it can say that if Massa wins, his government may become the first recipient of a BRICS bailout. In such an event, Argentina could significantly reduce or, in the case of a bailout covering the full value of the IMF loan, even eliminate its dependence on the IMF, just as happened in 2006.

It is probably safe to assume that the strings attached to a prospective BRICS loan would not be as onerous as those attached to the IMF loan. For China, Russia and the other BRICS members, issuing such a loan would be a relatively low-risk way of further eroding US influence over the global economy. After all, the IMF and World Bank are two of the fundamental pillars of the neoliberal world order that has prevailed since the 1970s, enabling the US and its allies in Western Europe to continue plundering the resources of the former colonised countries of Africa, Latin America and Asia without having to use standing armies. They have also hugely enriched the financiers of Wall Street and the City of London.

Bailing out Argentina would be a relatively low-risk gambit for the BRICS members. While Argentina may have a long, storied history of defaulting on its debts, it also has two hugely valuable assets that it can put up as collateral: its huge natural gas reserves in Vaca Muerta, which are only just coming on line, and its vast, unexploited lithium deposits in the north, both of which are already of keen interest to Beijing. Plus, Argentina is of vital strategic interest to the BRICS given it is the second largest economy in South America, a resource-rich region that is already trading more with China than anywhere else, but which is in the cross-hairs of the US Southern Command for precisely that reason.

Such a move would also send a clear message to many of the world’s struggling economies that there is a new lender in town — and what’s more, with the combined financial backing of not just China, Russia, India, Brazil and South Africa but also all the new members, including the financial powerhouse that is Saudi Arabia. Right now, the number of struggling economies continues to rise due to the dual impact of spiralling inflation and the soaring debt servicing costs. According to a recent UN report, developing countries are shouldering a staggering 30% of the $92 trillion global public debt burden. As many as 52 countries — 40% of the developing world — are on the brink of serious debt trouble.

The prospect of the BRICS moving into the multilateral lending arena in a big way has not gone unnoticed by some in the West, according to Reuters. Werner Hoyer, the outgoing head of the European Investment Bank, warned Western governments on Wednesday that they were in danger of losing the confidence of the “Global South”, unless they urgently intensified their own support efforts for poorer countries.

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  1. Irrational

    Dear Nick,
    Excellent article.
    One quibble with the last paragraph: Herr Dr. Hoyer may be saying the right thing, but possibly for the wrong reasons: he is nearing the end of his last term and is looking for a suitable follow-on role.

    1. Nick Corbishley Post author

      Thanks for that, Irrational. Have added the word “outgoing” to his job title.

  2. Candide

    What a relief to read analysis free of the vulture mentality that routinely disinforms our society.

  3. Paul Damascene

    Pretty clear that the BRICS bank is not setting expectations that it will be a radical actor.

    If it were, we might be asking if the BRICS bank could lead a Global-Majority debt jubilee.

    We lend to you *after* you default on your Wall Street, London & IMF loans.

  4. The Rev Kev

    Yesterday I could not understand why Argentina had been included as a new BRICS member but this post explains a lot of it. Looking at a map I can see that the two largest countries in South America are now part of BRICS but there is more to it than that. If the rest of the BRICS countries can turn around Argentina’s economy over the next few years, that will radically alter the geopolitical landscape in South America. All the BRICS countries would have to do is to lend them money and to tell them to do the opposite of whatever the IMF was demanding that they do. That alone would be a big help and any loans would or could have as collateral the profits from Argentina’s natural gas reserves and Lithium deposits. And if it worked, the rest of the countries in South America would mostly ditch the IMF as a losing strategy which it is – by design. And without the IMF, how else is the west suppose to keep control of South America? By military force? They are hard pressed to get troops to go again into Haiti. The funny thing is that if you read accounts of Argentina from a century or more ago, they usually said that Argentina had the resources to grow into a powerhouse. But it never did happen. So it will be understood by Argentina’s voters that when they go to vote, it may come down to a candidate that supports the IMF – Javier Milei – and another that supports the BRICS. And maybe a chance at a new future.

    1. ChrisRUEcon

      > So it will be understood by Argentina’s voters that when they go to vote, it may come down to a candidate that supports the IMF – Javier Milei – and another that supports the BRICS. And maybe a chance at a new future.

      Yes, dare I say … a soft form of “regime” selection.

    2. Yves Smith

      I am much more skeptical than Nick.

      First, the CRA is merely swaps lines and has never been used. And members can draw only 2x of their paid in capital.

      Second, the NBD, the more operational organization, turned down Russia’s request for lending after the sanctions (see:

      One of the people involved at its inception said the NBD is too slow moving:

      If it were in my power, I would say – half-jokingly, but only half-jokingly – that I would replace all, or almost all, the members of the Administration of the development bank, i.e., the President and most VPs, as well as many of the higher level in staff, by more competent and dynamic people, possessing a complete understanding of the NDB’s reason of existence

      Third, I don’t see politically how this happens. As Nick pointed out, 2 of the 3 candidates for president, the runoff leader Milei and Particia Bullrich, are both opposed to joining BRICS, unless their is a miraculously large shift in votes, the result will be a coalition government of two non-BRICS camps or one anti, one pro BRICS. I would assume in either case the antis could stymie the domestic approval process, which I would assume includes legislative support.

    3. Luchino441

      Your response is an understudy of eco and geopolitical history ignorance. Javier Milei is proposing cancelling the debt to the IMF. No a single country wants to deal with them. As far as the leading Argentine figures, Fernandez, Kirchner and Max’s; they epitomize deep rooted corruption and the continuation to a path of poverty. As it is, all previous Argentine Governments for the last 80 years, are guilty of corruption and theft.
      Milei is not associated with CATO, nor is he funded by Koch Inc, he is a Murray Rothbard student, an Austrian Economist and a Fellow Misses follower. Naive, maybe, but FAKE is a laughable charge. He faces incredible obstacles and potential dangers, coming from Cuba, Venezuela and Brazil. For that’s their main export, poverty, caos and uncertainty.
      Argentina on Wednesday night was not part of Bricks, by Thursday as China recognized the US challenge (dollarization) , welcome.
      Bricks is a lot of countries trying to evade US sanctions (good), but to believe this is the end of a RESERVE currency is inept. Gold, Gas, Oil, have to be delivered on the spot. Who will buy? China.
      The world trade is about 32 trillion US, all these BRICKS represent 15%, china alone is over 8%. The love affair with china is based on the utopian idea of sovereignty and mutual respect. Guess what hat country is building military bases in Cuba, Venezuela and is already pressuring or already in every other Latin American country…China. By the way China loaned Venezuela well over $30 billion US, they knew the good folks in the Regime were keeping the money. For that little help, they have taken (perpetual) control of just about everything. And yes, send the Venezuelan paupers walking up north to the US. Done with upmost respect, clearly.
      BRICKS as the European Union, will work, not single cuttency( impossible). Trade between countries and individuals, what’s China to do with 5 billions of Brazilian reals.
      The US has been a bad partner to the Soutn, but when the S.. hit the fan, all of them will come back crawling.
      Dolarization, is not becoming an enemy of Argentina. Dollarization will save the country. The reasons are simple. It will take money out the political classes. That’s what Milei calls, extinguishing the Central Bank. The US should try it, sometime.
      The rest of the economy of Argentina, and the path forward, will take a long time process of learning. I suggest, not confusing Hope and Change, with good.

      1. skippy

        The only thing that makes sense is lithium and all the rest is just philosophical jaw boning for the unwashed … not that before the GFC the neoliberals were loud and proud …

    4. Monsoon

      What is of interest is how the fascists are using libertarianism as their tool of resistance to socialism.

      From the campaign of Jan Topic a mercenary/oligarch running for president in Ecuador to Bukele in El Salvador.

      Both are drug dealing countries and both use the dollar.

      Enslavement to the dollar, be it by drugs or commodity/finance is the essential goal of US hegemony.

  5. Michael Hudson

    I hope that you DON’T think I’ve advocated a new BRICS currency. I’ve discussed a parallel to Keynes’s bancor or SDR to settle and denominate balances among BRICS bank members, NOT a new currency
    Here’s what Lavrov said two days ago:
    Sergey Lavrov: No one is talking about the “single currency” now. Now all attention is focused on finding ways to ensure mutual trade, economic projects and investments in such a way as not to depend on the system controlled by the United States and its Western allies, to be independent of the dollar, euro and the yen.
    Quite a long time after the creation of the BRICS New Development Bank, another project was formed within the framework of the “five” called the “pool of reserve currencies”. This is the forerunner of the steps that we are now planning to take to facilitate the use of national currencies and, most importantly, to create an alternative payment system.

    So make sure that you don’t give the impression that I’m in the group that you’re criticizing.

  6. Luciano Moffatt


    your analysis is music in my ears.
    I am still afraid that Milei might get elected, thou.

    However, that would not be the end of the story.

    If Milei, as expected applies a neoliberal recipe a la Thatcher, or worst a la Yeltsin, we would expect huge social turmoil and a huge drop in the standard of living.

    That would be the time for a new figure to emerge and copy his transgressive style but this time “selling” a complete departure from the US dependency.
    Argentina, is well known, competes with the United States: we both sells agricultural (and cultural) products. Argentina did well (at least part of the population) when we associated with the complementary UK. Many people see that an association with China/BRICS would be complementary and that would help everybody here.
    Once Argentinian elites are convinced, the change will be dramatic.

  7. Tim

    You’d have to imagine, anything that could get Argentina out of the IMF – Dollar doom-loop will be on the table.

  8. John k

    I’m hopeful. China needs resources such as lithium. Gas might go to nearby eu drawn by high prices, but that helps China indirectly by injecting new supplies into the world market. And slashes us fossil profits.
    50B is a lot, but just paying interest is not so bad, besides maybe better to loan to Argentina if you’re worried about confiscation of reserves. Resources could back up loans. Of course, the new loans would be effective after the election.
    Maybe Russia/China were motivated to overcome Indian foot dragging of new BRICS members, motivated by the coming Argentina election? Time is of the essence, first must see the pro-BRICS party makes it to the runoff. If so, there’s more time to bring high powered visits/commitments to Argentina. Somehow elites need to be convinced, but a disastrous economy has many losers beyond the poor, as they’ve seen in the past.
    West will of course try to disrupt any move towards brics.


    Either way I think it’s a win for BRICS.

    Sergio Massa wins – Argentina is a new partner

    Sergio Massa loses – BRICS can show it doesn’t coerce invited members to become members and if the situation worsens in Argentina, the IMF may become more unpopular.

    1. Yves Smith

      Your second claim is nonsensical. No one can force a country to join an international country grouping. At the inception, they are about carrots and perceived bennies of closer ties. So BRICS won’t get any props if Argentina does not join.

        1. Yves Smith

          This is bad faith argumentation, which is a violation of our written site Policies.

          First, you fail to provide any counterevidence that force or compulsion was ever used to induce a county to join a large international organization like the UN, NATO, or G20.

          Second, you are now Making Shit Up. The definition of coerce per the Oxford Dictionary via Google:

          persuade (an unwilling person) to do something by using force or threats.

          obtain (something) by using force or threats.

          Definition of compel from the same source:

          force or oblige (someone) to do something.

          Both definitions list “force” first, consistent with it being the most important connotationl

          I trust you will find your happiness on the Internet elsewhere.

  10. Dr. G.

    I don’t get this: about Argentina’s financial frailty. It is my understanding that historically the country’s leaders believed that achieving an almost all white citizenry, they’d be spared the appearance and reality of incompetence.

    They allowed an untold number of nazis to immigrate there to bolster their caucasian bona fides. They wanted to be a European South America. Wha’ happened?

    Why haven’t they succeeded in their quest? What’s their problem with their ever-faltering economy? They can’t blame it on blacks (as has happened with Brazil) and they can’t blame it on the Mestizos.

    Why can’t Argentinians get Argentina to function well economically? What’s up?

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