Ibsa meeting likely to bolster trade ties

The leaders of emerging powerhouses South Africa, India and Brazil will meet in Pretoria this week to bolster trade and energy ties as well as flex their collective muscle on world affairs.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, his Brazilian counterpart Luis Inacio Lula Da Silva and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will sign a series of joint agreements on education, energy and information technology in a follow-up to their inaugural multilateral summit in September last year.

All three countries have ambitions to join the United Nations Security Council and see their alliance, known as Ibsa (India-Brazil-South Africa), as an opportunity to push the concerns of developing countries in the southern hemisphere.

According to Jerry Matjila, deputy director general of South Africa’s Foreign Ministry, Ibsa aims to become the “Group of Eight of the South”.

“You cannot ignore the voice of these three countries put together. There are a lot of synergies between the three countries. We have a population of 1,3-billion people, economies of about $2-trillion,” he told reporters in a pre-summit briefing at the weekend.

“What is common about these three countries is … their vibrant democracies, common views on major global issues and being substantial players in our respective sub-regional economies,” he added.

International trade between Brazil and South Africa stood at R16-billion last year with the balance of trade being in favour of the South American country.

Bilateral trade between South Africa and India is also worth about R16-billion but “there is a huge potential in the Indian market” to be exploited, Matjila said.

Roberto Jaguaribe, deputy secretary general in the Brazilian Foreign Ministry, said the three countries had much in common and could therefore serve as “a spokesperson for the aspirations of developing countries, for a more balanced and fair international status quo”.

“The three have legitimate reason to be the representatives” of the developing world as they are all “multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and pluralistic”.

A senior Foreign Ministry official in New Delhi, meanwhile, said the Indian government regarded the summit as a perfect opportunity for like-minded countries to make common cause.

“Ibsa is a unique forum which brings together three large democracies with common challenges from three different continents,” said the official speaking on condition of anonymity.

“The forum helps formulate common positions on issues like climate change, UN reforms, safeguarding the interests of developing countries at WTO [the World Trade Organisation], cooperation in the energy sector — that affect all our people.”

Zwelethu Jolobe, a specialist in international affairs at the University of Cape Town, said the leaders could be expected to formulate a common line on issues such as world trade and reform of the United Nations.

“While it [Ibsa] began as a talking shop, all parties have realised that they have mutual interests that go beyond just plain money and cover politics and a common history that gives it more substance” than other alliances.

Jolobe said that all three leaders were operating in a climate where there was “a growing demand for developing countries to assert themselves more” and greater levels of cooperation would help them achieve the common goal of “sitting at the big table” on the international stage. — AFP

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