This paper tries to make sense of trade-policy developments in the BRIICS (Brazil, Russia, India, Indonesia, China and South Africa), against the backdrop of trade and foreign-direct-investment (FDI) liberalisation in developing countries and countries in transition since the early 1980s. Its accent is on political economy, comparing the countries concerned to show how politics and institutions interacted with economic conditions, and shaped the relative success or otherwise of reforms. National trade-policy reforms must also be seen in the context of modern economic globalisation. The global macroeconomic climate, in addition to global patterns of trade, FDI and technological change, set the external economic context of constraints and opportunities for nation-level policies in the BRIICS. Then there is the global political context: international rules and international economic organisations (such as the WTO, IMF and World Bank), and the role of the major powers, especially the USA.