DAVOS, Switzerland - Saudi Arabia is still considering an invitation to become a member of the BRICS bloc of countries after being asked to join by the group last year, two sources with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters on Thursday.

The group in August invited Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Iran, Argentina, and Ethiopia to join starting Jan. 1, although Argentina signalled it would not take up the invitation in November.

The two sources said Jan. 1 was not a deadline for a decision, with one adding there were strong benefits to joining the bloc as members China and India are the kingdom's biggest trading partners.

"Saudi Arabia is assessing the benefits and then will make a decision, there is a process happening," one of the sources said.

The expansion of the group would add economic heft to the BRICS, whose current members are China, Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa. It could also amplify its declared ambition to become a champion of the Global South.

Faisal Alibrahim, Saudi Arabia's economy minister, later confirmed the kingdom was still in a decision-making process on joining the bloc.

"The kingdom is a part of many multilateral platforms and multilateral institutions and whenever the kingdom is invited into one of them it goes through a process that is a multi-step process and at the end of it a decision is made," he told Reuters in an interview.

"Right now we are in a similar process and I will comment at the end of it."

Riyadh is weighing its options against a backdrop of rising geopolitical tensions between the U.S., China and Russia, and as the kingdom's warming ties with Beijing have caused concern in Washington.

Despite its strong ties with the U.S., Saudi Arabia has increasingly pursued its own path out of concern that Washington is less committed to the Gulf's security than in the past.

"While officially joining the group is advantageous for the Kingdom’s economy, it must carefully consider the political implications it may have on its relations with other major powers," Hesham Alghannam, director general of the Security Research Center at Naif Arab University for Security Sciences said.

"The Kingdom aims to maintain an equal distance from all major powers and, at present, it does not want to send any signals that could be misinterpreted by any party.”

On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia's minister of commerce stated that Saudi Arabia had not joined the BRICs in a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, without elaborating.

Following the minister's statement, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that integrating Saudi Arabia into the BRICs bloc was very important work that was continuing on Wednesday.

Saudi state TV reported earlier this month that the kingdom had joined the bloc, only to remove the reports from its social media accounts later.

Fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member, the UAE, said it had accepted the invitation and joined the bloc, according to the ministry of foreign affairs.

Its decision was based on economic considerations and not political ones, Minister of Economy Abdulla bin Touq al Marri said on Thursday.

"We are not living in a cold war ... joining the BRICs is not from a political stance, it's from an economic stance," Marri said in a session at Davos.

"Yes polarisation has happened, it's unprecedented since the 1980s, but the joining of BRICs is more of a south-south agenda ... the UAE will always engage the West."

(Reporting by Maha El Dahan and Dmitry Zhdannikov; additional reporting by Pesha Magid and Rachna Uppal; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Alison Williams and Hugh Lawson