India, Brazil, South Africa - the power of three

Inter Press Service | 14 October 2007

India, Brazil, South Africa - the Power of Three

By Paulo Jorge

JOHANNESBURG, Oct 14 (IPS) — Brazil, India and South Africa will intensify their campaign for permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council when their leaders meet in the South African capital, Pretoria, on Oct. 17. President Luiz Inácio da Silva of Brazil, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will discuss U.N. reforms and other issues of common interest at the second IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa) summit later this week.

All three countries are strong candidates to take up permanent seats on an expanded Security Council, and appear certain to support each other’s efforts to represent their regions. This mutual endorsement will lend considerable weight to their respective bids, but at the same time could alienate them from potential supporters in their own regions.

IBSA was conceived in 2003 to counterbalance the powerful Group of Eight alliance of industrialised countries and to promote South-South cooperation. The three regional powers saw themselves as champions of developing world causes, and they felt that by forging closer ties between themselves they would be able to improve co-operation and trade between their regions.

South Africa is the super power of the Southern African Customs Union and the Southern African Development Community, Brazil is by far the most influential member of the Mercosur trading bloc of South America, and India has the largest economy in southern Asia.

Ahead of the summit, a number of related activities will take place in Sandton, Johannesburg. These include meetings of 14 working groups, the IBSA Woman’s Initiative, IBSA Academics Forum and IBSA Business Forum, as well as a seminar on technology transfer and a number of cultural events.

The 14 working groups representing various government departments cover agriculture, climate change, defence, education, energy, health, technology, social issues, tourism, trade and transport — amongst others.

The three IBSA countries drew together as they share common political objectives, representing emerging nations with similar socio-political goals. All three have rapidly growing economies, while at the same time large proportions of their populations are struggling to lift themselves out of poverty.

IBSA leaders have tried to transform their political and economic parallels into a basis for greater economic co-operation. They argue that working together, they will have greater leverage when negotiating with countries of the North for better trade conditions under the auspices of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Since IBSA was formed in 2003, trade between the three member states has increased considerably. As ambassador Jerry Matjila, head of the Asia and Middle East section of the South African Department of Foreign Affairs has remarked, "Trade figures are healthy and stand now at between six and seven billion dollars."

He was optimistic that when a new free trade agreement is signed, the prospects for growth would be even greater: "...when we create a common framework (trilateral agreement) then we might well reach our target of ten billion dollars."

In spite of Matjila’s enthusiasm for the future of trilateral trade, a reality check reveals that all three IBSA members still do by far most of their business with industrialised countries.

In WTO trade figures for 2005, Brazil, India and South Africa list the European Union as their number one destination for exports, and the biggest source of imports. None of the IBSA countries features in the lists of the top five trading partners of any of the other member states.

Trilateral trade has grown impressively, but off a very low baseline. The WTO says that from 2004 to 2006, Brazil’s trade with India increased by 170 percent and its trade with South Africa by 86 percent.

While trade between the three countries is likely to carry on growing in the immediate future, it is unlikely to reach the lofty goals set by IBSA leaders, say certain commentators. "All three countries are essentially competitors for export share to developed markets," Dirk Ernst van Seventer, senior economist at Trade and Industrial Policy Strategies, a Johannesburg think-tank, explains.

He says that the IBSA member states will have to make significant sacrifices in their domestic economies in order to make the trading bloc less competitive internally, but more competitive externally. Van Seventer implied that he did not believe IBSA governments would make the short term political sacrifices required to attain the desired long term economic goals.

Da Silva, on his seventh trip to the African continent, is making controversial stopovers en route to the IBSA summit. Brazilian media have been critical of the leader, who has always been outspoken about his commitment to democratic values, yet chose to visit three countries with dubious track records in the practice of democracy: Burkina Faso, the Republic of Congo and Angola.

The Brazilian president will meet his Burkinabé counterpart, Blaise Compaoré, on Oct. 15, the 20th anniversary of the coup d’etat that brought Compaoré to power and saw the murder of his former ally, Thomas Sankara.

Congolese President Denis Sassou-Nguesso and President José Eduardo dos Santos of Angola have both held onto power firmly since 1979.

Singh will pay a short visit to Nigeria on his way to the IBSA summit.

source: IPS