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IBSA strengthens its commitment to democracy

BuaNews, Tshwane, South Africa

IBSA Strengthens its Commitment to Democracy

12 May 2008

Pretoria - The "strategic alliance" that is the India-Brazil-South Africa trilateral axis is now more than simply a dialogue but a "privileged relationship" favouring a world where democracy will prevail not only in its political manifestation but also on social and cultural levels, writes Shaun Benton.

This is according to the Foreign Minister of Brazil, Celso Amorim, who joined South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee at the fifth IBSA Ministerial Commission meeting at Somerset West in Cape Town on Sunday.

The IBSA alliance, said Mr Amorim, is "in favour of our peoples, of humanity, a world where democracy will prevail - not just a political democracy but a social, cultural democracy".

Mr Mukherjee told the audience from the three countries gathered at the Lord Charles Hotel that it was "truly a special relationship" that now has the ability to impact on the world at large, should it be adequately substantiated.

For Ms Dlamini-Zuma, the IBSA formation, started in 2003, has now gained "unprecedented momentum" as a cross-continental, trilateral forum that is now "beginning to be noticed" by the rest of the world.

In terms of trade - widely seen as probably the most important of the levers that turn the trilateral axis - the combined value at the end of last year had reached over $10 billion, said Mr Mukherjee.

This means that the three countries could feasibly see their target of $15 billion in turnover from combined trade by 2010 being exceeded, the Indian Foreign Minister said, adding that the success of IBSA requires the resolution of "connectivity problems".

The meeting of the three countries at ministerial level comes less than one year since a meeting in New Delhi, India, and precedes the third IBSA presidential summit scheduled for the Indian capital in October.

The second summit of IBSA - which has 10 working groups that bring together senior officials from the three countries, providing focal points of convergence - was hosted by South Africa last year.

Currently, the navies of the three countries are engaged in joint exercises - the first time the three nations are cementing the geopolitical alliance with military cooperation - off the coast of Cape Town, as part of the IBSAMAR "maritime camaraderie".

Such exercises raise the visibility of the IBSA alliance and as such are "very important", said Mr Amorim, allowing, as they do, the world to see "how we are working together" and providing an evolving geopolitical "identity".

Such an identity means that the three rapidly developing countries are no longer subject, in their relations with one another, to the "intermediation of richer, more powerful nations", he said, but rather, the three can now immediately engage in the "great economic space of the South".

The catalyst of tighter cooperation would be economic growth jointly encouraged and shared between the three nations - all leaders in their respective continents - said Ms Dlamini-Zuma.

While the three countries have three distinct levels of interaction, from joint positions on global issues such as United Nations reform to government-to-government cooperation, the "people-to-people" cooperation between the three countries needs to be widened and deepened, she said.

This ground level, people-to-people interaction would require "less bureaucracy" and more action on tangible issues of cooperation, the South African foreign minister said.

Meanwhile, in a communique released to the press, the three foreign ministers reiterated that the structures of global governance needed to become "more democratic, representative and legitimate by increasing the participation of the South in their decision-making".

Such a reordering of the international system would be meaningful only if accompanied by a "comprehensive" reform of the United Nations and its Security Council, both in the permanent and non-permanent categories of membership.

Underlining the seriousness with which such reform is viewed, intergovernmental negotiations on the issue of reform of the 15-member - including five, permanent, veto-wielding countries - Security Council must commence "forthwith", they said.

Similarly, a call for reform of the international financial institutions - most notably the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank - was reiterated, with India, Brazil and South Africa lamenting the "slow rate of progress" of such change, which would bring the voices of developing countries to the governance and administration of these crucial financial levers.

At the same time, the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals - aimed primarily at dramatically reducing global levels of poverty and hunger and 2015, requires "equity and transparency" in international economic relations for developing countries.

To this end, the fifth IBSA ministerial meeting welcomed a commitment made by India, at the Africa-India Forum Summit held last month, to extend a duty-free tariff preference scheme to all Least Developed Countries, on the back of a similar commitment recently made by Brazil.

The three ministers also called on the world’s most developed countries - the industrialised North - to provide a "substantial and effective" reduction in Overall Trade Distorting Support, such as farm subsidies.

It is these government subsidies to farmers in the rich North that the Brazilian Foreign Minister - referring to recent remarks by Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva - on Sunday likened to a drug that turned the farmers of rich nations into "addicts" while the real "victims" of this addiction are the developing countries, whose economies are in many cases still highly dependent on agriculture.

Trade between Brazil, India and South Africa also came into sharper focus, with the governments welcoming moves by their trade ministers towards harmonising progress made in preferential trade agreements between the South African Customs Union (SACU) and Mercosur, the Latin American trading bloc.

Similar progress in the India-Mercosur trade axis could then culminate in an India-Mercosur-SACU trilateral trade arrangement, which is likely to be ultimately crucial to the real fruition of the IBSA axis, with such an outcome being urged by the three ministers.

Intellectual property rights was also covered, with "balance" sought in order for these rights to become properly consolidated by the three nations.

Joint positions were also taken further biodiversity, climate change - with technology transfer to developing nations seen as a central to providing capacity for mitigation and adaptation - as well as sustainable development and not least, human settlements.

As of this year, the meeting noted, half the world’s population is living in cities, with urban slum dwellers now numbering over one billion people.

By 2020, most of the largest cities in the world would be located in the South, raising "serious concerns over the urbanisation of poverty".

Gender equality was also put on the table, as well as issues surrounding energy - in an environment of soaring oil prices - and the question of disarmament and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.

The foreign ministers of the three democracies also hailed the importance of the advancement of the global human rights agenda, noting at this point progress being made at building the United Nations’ elevated Human Rights Council (which replaces the UN’s Human Rights Commission).

Ms Dlamini-Zuma, Mr Mukherjee and Mr Amorim also reiterated their commitment to the "complete elimination" of nuclear weapons, and expressed concern at the lack of attention being paid towards disarmament, which are "mutually reinforcing processes requiring continuous irreversible progress".

According to the IBSA communique, the removal of all nuclear weapons from the world would be best served by embarking on this process systematically, and ensuring that it is done in "a comprehensive, universal, non-discriminatory and verifiable manner".