IBSA Dialogue Forum: A Strategic Partnership

Published on 26th October 2008

IBSA Leaders in an Earlier Forum
In the wake of the global financial crisis, the heads of state of India, Brazil and South Africa gathered at New Delhi recently for the third IBSA summit. Inaugurated in June 2003, the India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) Trilateral Dialogue Forum is a unique model of trans-national cooperation, as the three countries come from three different continents and yet share similar worldviews and aspirations.

The first historic IBSA summit was held in September 2006 at Brasilia and the second in October 2007 at Tshwane, South Africa. The areas identified for cooperation are diverse. They include: agriculture, climate change, environment, education, energy, health, science and technology, tourism, trade, transport, culture and defence amongst others. The forum is not merely a grouping for South - South Cooperation co-operation but it is a strategic partnership between the three countries. However the contours of the partnership are being defined in respect to the changing international and regional environment.

A number of factors contribute to the strategic partnership between the three countries. First, all three member countries, India, Brazil and South Africa, are emerging powers that are also dominant in their respective regions. Further, the three countries have a combined population of 4 billion, a nearly$1.7 trillion GDP and foreign trade of $656 billion. At the same time for all three partners, IBSA is an important tool of foreign policy. Moreover the forum has helped fructify common positions on various strategic issues like, UN reforms, climate change, fairer trade regimes etc, by the three countries. They have been able to coordinate some of their positions in the WTO. Most importantly for India, South Africa and Brazil’s backing has played a great role in the Indo- US Nuclear Agreement passing through the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG).

The IBSA forum is very significant from India’s point of view. Both Brazil and South Africa are important for India, economically and strategically. India has a bilateral trade of around $ 4.5 billion with South Africa and it is about $3 billion with Brazil. Indian companies are acquiring presence in Brazil and South Africa.  The diversification of India’s foreign policy is extremely vital at this moment. It is very much in India’s interest to give priority to such a forum like IBSA. The world is changing fast and diverse interests are emerging every day. As an emerging global power, India should deal not only with the big powers but also with other regional powers and explore opportunities in every region. Hence strategically it is important for India to build partnerships around the world.

IBSA’s path is strewn with certain challenges.  The three countries have to synergise their efforts and build on mutual complementarities. Moreover the IBSA countries face challenges and competition from other countries of their respective regions in the leadership role. The rise of China and its claim as the leader of the developing world adds to the problems of the IBSA countries. Also, the agreements of the individual members signed with other international organizations/entities (for example., Brazil with Mercusor and South Africa with SACU) can have an impact on the coordination and functioning of the forum. Several internal issues such as corruption, increasing crime rates, political violence and economic inequality among others haunt the three member countries.. and need to be addressed properly by the individual countries for the forum to be successful.  Further, the awareness about IBSA in respective countries is low and needs to be increased.

Apart from the usual channels of political and economic cooperation and development, the involvement of civil society and business enterprises should be strengthened to make the dialogue forum more successful. Further cooperation in the fields of energy, food security, transport, health, security and information technology can be mooted in the coming days and the member countries should learn from each others’ best practice in various fields.

The potential of the IBSA forum as a strategic partnership between three regional powers from three different continents remains beyond doubt. Compared to other multilateral fora of which India is a member (e.g. IOR-ARC, BIMSTEC) IBSA’s record is quite credible. However, the grouping should move in due course from being a forum for dialogue to becoming a vehicle for concrete developmental cooperation so that its benefits are shared by the common man also. Finally it should not be forgotten that the IBSA partnership is still in the formative years and it will take a while for its true impact in the international arena to fructify.

By Ruchita Beri
Research Officer, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses
New Delhi

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