Leaders of South Africa, Brazil and India meet this week to bolster an alliance that is challenging the United States and Europe for access to resources in the developing world and influence on the global stage.
Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and South African President Thabo Mbeki have joined forces to ease the reliance of Asia, Latin America and Africa on trade with richer, northern-hemisphere economies.
The three members of the Ibsa (India-Brazil-South Africa) bloc also are pushing for sweeping reforms of the United Nations as they craft a united political front that is at times at odds with Washington and the West.
Each is lobbying for a permanent seat on an expanded UN Security Council as a means to give the developing world a greater voice there.
The October 17 summit in Pretoria as a result will be watched closely within the Group of Eight and even in China for signs that the bloc has the resolve to act as a counterpoint to the rich industrialised nations and emerging Asian superpower.
“It is, of course, a power-play process. They are trying to beef themselves up [internationally],” said Janis van der Westhuizen, professor of politics at the University of Stellenbosch.
Boosting trade between India, Brazil and South Africa and further afield on their respective continents is the cornerstone of the burgeoning relationship, with energy, information technology and pharmaceuticals seen as key areas of cooperation.
Annual trade within the group, which has a combined population of 1,3-billion, has already surpassed $6,5-billion since a $10-billion target was first set in 2004.
Brazil’s Lula, who has stressed his country’s historic ties with Africa on more than half-a-dozen trips to the continent, is pushing, among other things, for development of biofuels as a way to lessen developing nations’ dependence on oil imports.
The South American giant is a world leader in producing ethanol from sugar cane and is investing in technology to make biodiesel from soy and other plants. Mozambique and other African nations have expressed interest in the technology.
“Africa has a vast agricultural frontier to conquer. It can gain a lot with the expansion of renewable energies,” said Roberto Jaguaribe, undersecretary for politics at Brazil’s Foreign Ministry.
India, for its part, is keen to strengthen its economic ties outside Asia, particularly in Africa, where it is competing with China for oil and other natural resources.
South Africa, the continent’s economic powerhouse, wants access to Brazilian and Indian technology and expertise to help it overcome an increasingly dire skills shortage.
“They are trying to form a group of significant economies in the South who are cooperating with one another,” said Tom Wheeler, a former South African diplomat who is now a research fellow at the South African Institute of International Affairs.
Singh, Lula and Mbeki also are expected to discuss the Doha round of trade negotiations, which stalled last year as rich and poor nations failed to agree on cutting farm subsidies and opening up market access.
Bilateral trade talks also may be on the agenda in Pretoria.
The South American trade group Mercosur, led by Brazil, has negotiated bilateral trade deals with India and with the South African Customs Union, led by South Africa, and there are signs of a desire to negotiate a wider agreement.
But significant trade barriers remain between the three powers, with each imposing tariffs to protect sensitive sectors such as steel and sugar.
Additional reporting by Raymond Colitt and Guido Nejamkis in Brasilia