Miguel Santos Garcia, Miguel Santos García’s Newsletter – “Puerto Rico should definitely explore the possibility of joining BRICS+ as it could unblock new horizons for its future”
The island of Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States that faces many challenges in its economic and social development, as it does not have full sovereignty or independence. The U.S. Constitution grants Congress the power to regulate foreign commerce and make treaties with other nations. Therefore, Puerto Rico cannot by itself make bilateral deals with other nations without the approval of the US government. This limits Puerto Rico’s ability to pursue its own economic and political interests in the international arena. The island territory with a distinct culture, history, and identity to that of the US continent has struggled to build a stable economy jointly with the mighty United States of America as its patron still facing high poverty, unpayable debt, high unemployment, a total lack of an authentic economic model, not to mention its incapacity in asserting the Caribbean nation’s geo-economic competitiveness. Some Puerto Ricans have advocated for independence and some statehood, while others prefer to maintain the current status quo of ELA. However, there is another option that could benefit Puerto Rico if explored further: joining BRICS+.
Recently two Argentine provinces, Tierra del Fuego and La Pampa, have expressed their interest in joining the BRICS+ bloc which allows for states and regions to join these multipolar geoeconomic networks. According to these provinces’ regional authorities, this decision would allow them to access greater economic and trade benefits, as well as greater geo-economic integration in a new, fairer globalization towards emerging countries. However, Milei’s national government has been reluctant to endorse this initiative, arguing that it could affect the country’s sovereignty and unity. Thus, as the systemic transition towards multipolarity ensues some experts have suggested that Puerto Rico could also benefit from joining the BRICS+ initiative, which is a cooperation platform that includes Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa, and other emerging economies. BRICS countries along with multipolar banking institutions have shown interest in investing in infrastructure, energy, tourism, and trade in the Caribbean and Latin America, thus Puerto Rico should enter such a partnership, which could boost its economic growth and improve its living standards.
The BRICS+ initiative is not about adding new members to the BRICS group, but about creating a new platform for building regional and bilateral partnerships across different continents. The BRICS+ platform would involve the regional integration blocks where the BRICS countries have a leading role. These blocks are Mercosur, South African Customs Union (SACU), EEU, SAARC, and the China-ASEAN FTA. The BRICS+ circle would consist of 35 countries in total: SACU: Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland; SAARC (SAFTA members): Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka; (China-ASEAN FTA): China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia; (EEU): Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan; (Mercosur): Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia, Venezuela.
Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States that has its local government and constitution tho everything regarding commerce must be approved by US congress but can this predicament be altered so the island can participate in multipolar globalization? The island has a special Commonwealth status called Estado Libre Asociado (ELA), which means Free Associated State. This gives Puerto Rico some autonomy but also limits its participation in international and trade affairs. Some Puerto Ricans have proposed that the island should join BRICS+, a group of emerging economies that would increase the island’s current geoeconomic options in trade, commerce, and investments. They argue that this would give Puerto Rico more opportunities for trade, investment, development, and cooperation all the while enhancing Puerto Rico’s sovereignty and identity, as well as its cultural and linguistic diversity. However, joining BRICS+ would also pose some challenges and risks for Puerto Rico as it would require renegotiating its relationship with the United States, which could affect its security and economic stability.
This would require some changes in the legal details and political status of Puerto Rico which is ELA, especially regarding the Jones Act, which regulates the maritime commerce between US-Puerto Rico and its territories. The Jones Act has been criticized for increasing the cost of living and limiting the competitiveness of Puerto Rican products in the global market and being one of the prime culprits of its economic demise. Therefore, if Puerto Rico wants to join the BRICS+ initiative, it would have to negotiate with the United States to modify or repeal the Jones Act, which could face some resistance from some sectors in Washington. The act can only be repealed by an act of Congress, which would need the approval of the president. Alternatively, the president can issue a waiver of the act for a limited period, as has been done in the past for humanitarian reasons or national security interests. The Jones Act is a federal law that regulates maritime commerce in the United States and its territories. It requires that all goods shipped between U.S. ports be carried by U.S.-flagged vessels, owned and operated by U.S. citizens. This law has been criticized for increasing the cost of living and limiting the economic opportunities for Puerto Rico, as it restricts its access to cheaper and more diverse international markets.
One question that arises from the current situation in Puerto Rico is whether the cooperation of BRICS+ countries could contribute to its development and improvement of living standards. BRICS+ is a term that refers to the expansion of the BRICS group to include other emerging economies, be they states or fragments of a state thus one does not need to be a state to become a BRICS+ province. The main goal of BRICS+ is to foster a more inclusive and multipolar world order, based on mutual respect and cooperation. Puerto Rico could benefit from joining BRICS+ in several ways. Firstly, it could diversify its trade and investment partners, reducing its dependence on the US market. Second, it could access more resources and opportunities for development, such as infrastructure projects, technology transfer, and financial assistance. Third, it could affirm its political autonomy and voice, participating in multilateral forums and initiatives that address common challenges and interests.
RIC countries, (Russia, India, and China), are emerging as major players in the global arena, with significant economic, political, and military influence. But what can the RIC offer Puerto Rico that the US cannot or will not deliver? One possible answer is that the RIC can provide Puerto Rico with alternative sources of trade, investment, infrastructure and development assistance, as well as diplomatic support and strategic partnership. RIC has been expanding its presence and interests in Latin America and the Caribbean, seeking to break from the US hegemony and promote a multipolar world order, Puerto Rico could benefit from diversifying its economic and political ties with these countries, especially in areas such as energy, infrastructure, tourism, education, and health.
Therefore, if Puerto Rico wants to explore the potential of the BRICS+ geoeconomic powerhouse, it would have to either seek an exemption from the Jones Act or renegotiate its political status with the U.S. government by expanding what Puerto Rico’s ELA commonwealth can and cannot do. Both options would entail significant challenges and uncertainties, but they could also open new possibilities for Puerto Rico’s future.
Of course, joining BRICS+ would not be easy or without risks. Puerto Rico would have to negotiate and reinterpret its status with the US government, which may not be willing to loosen the yoke of its strategic asset in the Caribbean. However, these challenges are not insurmountable, Puerto Rico with its rich history of resilience and creativity, as well as a hardworking and talented population, has the potential to become a bridge between the North and the South within the Caribbean region, contributing to a more balanced and peaceful multipolar world order. Puerto Rico should definitely explore the possibility of joining BRICS+, as it could unblock new horizons for its future.