Inter Press Service (Johannesburg) | 13 October 2008
India, Brazil and South Africa Should Gang Up With China
By Stephanie Nieuwoudt
The India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) formation could have enough clout to stand up to the European Union and the U.S. but it needs the help of emerging superpower China. Alternatively it should align with the BRIC (Brazil-Russia-India-China) group.
This is the view of independent South African political economist Mohau Pheko. IPS canvassed views on IBSA in the run-up to the third annual summit of the IBSA dialogue forum which is happening on Wednesday Oct 15 in New Delhi, India.
"There is a lot of concern in bringing China into this grouping but IBSA cannot do it without China. It needs the strength of Beijing if it wants to become a powerful force," Pheko told IPS.
IBSA has tremendous potential but the grouping is sometimes undermined by divergent interests, she said. "They will always enter negotiations according to their own interests. But at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), countries from the South — including IBSA — did take a firm stance against exploitative decisions relating to trade and agricultural goods."
Pheko added that IBSA decisions often take long to become reality as "trade negotiations are complex and these countries are mostly involved in other negotiations at the same time. It is difficult to manage five or more simultaneous and divergent negotiations," she said.
Political analyst Professor Willie Breytenbach of the University of Stellenbosch near Cape Town is sceptical about IBSA: "The three countries involved are regional powers. But as a so-called power grouping they are not doing much more than taking a stand against the WTO.
"All three countries share concerns over agricultural liberalisation but the three countries have many more differences than issues around which they can rally. At the WTO Doha talks, the countries stabbed each other in the back when it suited them.
"India and Brazil are still trying to maintain protectionism regarding subsidies on exports while South Africa has long ago relinquished these subsidies," Breytenback argued.
"IBSA has not made any breakthroughs regarding the generation of a collective viewpoint. They do not share any borders, being on three different continents and therefore do not have any impact establishing a powerful trading block like the countries in, for example, SADC (Southern African Development Community)."
Dr. Lyal White, a research associate at the South African Institute for International Affairs (SAIIA), told IPS: "To be blunt, one should not expect much from the meeting between the three IBSA countries." SAIIA does research and is attached to the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.
IBSA "is a South-South forum that has existed since about 2003 and is yet to deliver anything tangible besides good ideas of co-operation and some multilateral support — only really initially — and planned lists of working groups," White said.
However, there have been some gains: "South Africa has benefited by being associated with a group that is well above its weight," he explained. "The Brazilian and Indian economies are about four times that of South Africa and their populations are vastly bigger. These are big, serious countries. They don’t really need South Africa to operate in the international arena.
"South Africa, on the other hand, has not really used the IBSA forum to address national and continental issues. We entered into IBSA with the rest of the world thinking we would be a leader for Africa. In this we have failed miserably.
"In terms of trade, this has increased, but very much in the favour of Brazil and India. Trade with these countries is seriously skewed in their favour," according to White.
He pointed out that South Africa has enjoyed some Indian investment and more recently Brazilian investment, but investment of South African origin in Brazil is still far more than Brazilian investment here. Brazilians are seeking markets in other African countries - notably Angola and Mozambique - instead.
Bilateral trade between India and South Africa is worth around 2,3 billion dollars and trade between South Africa and Brazil accounts for about 1,3 billion dollars.
Transfer of technology is, according to White, one area with great potential in IBSA - especially in renewable energy and biofuels. "South Africa has a real opportunity to team up with Brazil and develop these areas."
Regarding science and technology, the three countries have six science agreements in place - biotechnology, HIV/Aids, malaria, nano-technology and oceanography and tuberculosis — according to the South African publication Engineering News.
India has already established itself as a major player in the field of internet technology in Africa. India’s e-Network Project aims to provide instant connectivity between all 53 African countries via satellite and fibre-optic networks. It is expected that the project can further education and health projects.
According to an IBSA agreement, research and development projects include the use of open-source software in HIV management. India is also a leader in the field of providing low-cost anti-retroviral medications. India has staked its claim in the car market in South Africa with the introduction of Tata Motors and Mahindra & Mahindra.
"There are mutual benefits to be gained from trade agreements between the three countries but they would be more effective as bilateral agreements, rather than the multilateral agreements as under IBSA," said Breytenbach.
The current global financial crisis will most probably dominate the IBSA dialogue forum: "The current financial crisis will be the real topic of discussion, and all these leaders are preoccupied with the impact this is having on their countries. Brazil has been severely hit and national interests will prevail, a stance which is likely to dominate in the meeting," concluded White.
The summit will be the first time that new South African president Kgalema Motlanthe represents South Africa at a high-level international gathering as head of state since his inauguration last month. He will be rubbing shoulders with Brazil’s President Luis Inazio "Lula" da Silva and India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
About the future of IBSA under new South African leadership, Pheko indicated that it remains to be seen whether Motlanthe takes further former president Thabo Mbeki’s vision of building international ties.
"One of the strengths of Mbeki was his foreign policy. And although (the ruling party) ANC president Jacob Zuma takes great care in ensuring foreign investors that nothing will change in the country, he has not promoted international co-operation strongly. At this stage we have a weakness in leadership regarding clear international policy.
"The leaders want to get the domestic situation stabilised. But I do believe that once all the issues are understood, they will realise the importance of taking a leadership role regarding, for example, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development. But we first need internal stability," Pheko concluded.