The IBSA task list

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The IBSA task list

Why this unique grouping of India, Brazil and South Africa must be revitalised


Why in news?

  • Even as two member-states (India and South Africa) of the IBSA Dialogue Forum have been busy with national elections and the third (Brazil) is settling down after its recent presidential elections, their foreign policy mandarins met in Kochi, May 3-5 2019.
  • The central goal was to develop a blueprint to rejuvenate IBSA, widely viewed as a unique voice for the Global South.
  • Will this endeavour succeed?

Rise, fall and rise

  • IBSA was launched through the Brasilia Declaration in 2003. Its summits, between 2006 and 2011, gave it a special global profile.
    • Backdrop of disarray at the end of the 20th century: The idea of creating a grouping composed of major democracies of three continents, Asia, Africa and South America, emerged from the disarray at the end of the 20th century, and the perceived need for developing countries to forge decisive leadership.
    • Three great democracies of the developing world: IBSA was visualised as the coming together of three great democracies of the developing world, all three, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multicultural, committed to the rule of law in international affairs and the strengthening of multilateral institutions.
    • Coming together of businesses and civil societies: IBSA, its founding heads of government said, would not just be a trilateral gathering of officials; it would also facilitate the coming together of businesses and civil societies in these three democracies.
  • Overshadowed by BRICS: Launched with much fanfare and promise, as an association of developing country democracies that believe they have a right to claim permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), IBSA has been overshadowed over the past few years by BRICS.
    • 2011 onwards, BRICS, the larger group comprising IBSA countries, China and Russia, started to overshadow IBSA. IBSA has been unable, until now, to hold its sixth summit.
    • Launched by Russia and repeatedly injected with life by China, BRICS has moved beyond ritual to claim for itself the status of being a counterpoint to the Group of Seven (G7).

Marginalization by BRICS

  • Political: The fact is that the political leadership of both Russia and China have shown greater commitment to the idea of BRICS, and pushing their anti-West agenda through it, than have the political leadership of Brazil, India and South Africa to IBSA, and to its pro-democracy agenda.
  • Key indicators: In terms of key indicators, BRICS will have little difficulty in outshining IBSA.
    • The former accounts for 26 per cent of the world’s area, 40 per cent of its population, and 22 per cent of global GDP.
    • Therefore, when BRICS speaks, its views are bound to receive much greater notice than those of IBSA.
    • It also helps that those drafting BRICS declarations are far more concise and self-disciplined than their colleagues in IBSA who still seem to be driven by the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)-style urge to be long-winded.

IBSA significance

  • Throughout the period of its marginalisation by BRICS, a strong body of officials and experts in the three countries has held the view that IBSA is the true inheritor of solidarity among developing countries, which was nurtured from the Bandung Conference (1955) through UNCTAD and G-77 to the BAPA+40 Declaration (2018).
  • It is the champion of South-South Cooperation, and the advocate of a coordinated response by developing economies to secure the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
  • The glue that binds IBSA countries together is their faith in democracy, diversity, plurality, inclusivity, human rights and rule of law.
  • This was reiterated through the IBSA Declaration on South-South Cooperation, issued in Pretoria in June 2018.
  • Notably IBSA remains determined to “step up advocacy for reforms of global governance institutions in multilateral fora”. In particular, it is strongly committed to the expansion of the UN Security Council.

Kochi parleys

  • Nevertheless, a series of events marking its 15th anniversary, held during 2018-19, have imparted new momentum to the endeavour to revitalise IBSA.
  • IBSA Sherpas and senior officials of the three countries held detailed deliberations on all aspects of the grouping.
  • The IBSA Academic Forum, comprising independent experts, held its sixth session in Kochi after a hiatus of over seven years.
    • This forum hosted a candid and comprehensive exchange of views on –
      • the continuing relevance of IBSA;
      • the need for a strategy to secure SDGs and cement South-South Cooperation;
      • expanding trade cooperation; and
      • the shared goal of enhancing academic collaboration on issues relating directly to the needs of democratic societies.

Getting back on track

  • In fact, IBSA has been notching up a number of quiet successes.
    • First, the three Foreign Ministers have been meeting regularly to provide a coordinated leadership to the grouping. The last meeting of the Trilateral Ministerial Commission took place in New York in September 2018.
    • Second, while the India, Brazil and South Africa Facility for Poverty and Hunger Alleviation (IBSA Fund) is small in monetary terms, it has succeeded in implementing 31 development projects in diverse countries: Burundi, Guinea-Bissau, State of Palestine, Cambodia and Vietnam, among others.
    • Third, India has been running an innovative IBSA Visiting Fellows Programme through the Delhi-based think tank, RIS or Research and Information System for Developing Countries. A strong case exists for expanding its reach. Both South Africa and Brazil should initiate their own editions of this programme, as an investment in building intellectual capital.

Way forward

  • The idea of IBSA remains valid. The grouping has its tasks cut out. The special responsibilities it bears cannot be discharged by BRICS.
  • In fact, strengthening IBSA could increase the effectiveness of BRICS and encourage it to follow a more balanced approach on key issues of interest to India, Brazil and South Africa.
  • Hence, the current endeavours to infuse greater dynamism in IBSA are well-timed.
    • They would need buy-in by the government that comes to power in India.
    • Support by Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro and South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, who has just won re-election as President, would be crucial.

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