India on Thursday joined Russia, Brazil, China and South Africa in holding back-to-back summits of IBSA and BRIC that underscore a shared quest for greater collective influence within the changing geometry of the international system.
The two groupings — of which Brazil and India are common members — were originally meant to meet here over two days in the rising powers' answer to the G7 platform of top industrialised countries. But with China's President Hu Jintao cutting short his visit because of an earthquake in Qinghai, the India-Brazil-South Africa forum and the Brazil, Russia, India, China group both met within hours of each other on April 15. Details of the BRIC summit were not available at the time of going to press.
With the world financial crisis exposing the weakness if not irrelevance of existing global institutions, IBSA and BRIC are attracting increasing attention for their potential role as catalysts for a new order.
The U.S. sees the G-20 as one way to dilute the influence of these groupings, which bring together some of the largest and most influential members of the erstwhile second and third worlds. “If it is no longer possible to solve big international issues without developing and transition country involvement,” World Bank president Robert Zoellick said in a recent speech advocating a “new geopolitics for a multipolar economy,” “it is also no longer possible to presume that their biggest members, the so-called BRICs, will represent all.”
Calling IBSA “a strong moral force in today's unsettled world,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who arrived here from Washington on Wednesday, said the significance of the grouping extended well beyond the bilateral ties between its three members. Among the areas he identified for coordination within IBSA were greater access to developed markets, reform of the United Nations, climate change and terrorism.
Brazil was represented at the IBSA summit by President Lula da Silva and South Africa by President Jacob Zuma.
With parallel meetings of IBSA parliamentarians, businesspersons, editors and academics being held here simultaneously, the Prime Minister drew attention to the fact that interaction among the “three major democracies” goes beyond the government level. Though trade between the three countries has grown significantly, the $10 billion target for intra-trade has not yet been reached. And transport linkages, especially with India, remain underdeveloped.
In a first for IBSA, the forum also held a ministerial level meeting with the Foreign Minister of Palestine, Riad Al-Malki. The three nations are jointly funding sports facilities for the Palestinians in Ramallah. India was represented by Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma. The Ministers expressed strong disappointment over the continued construction of settlements by Israel in the Occupied Territories and committed IBSA to “pro-actively” support the formation of a viable Palestinian state.
At the trilateral level, 16 working groups in areas as diverse as agriculture, transport and defence have been operating for the past few years. Joint naval exercises under the rubric of IBSAMAR are being held, highlighting the group's potential role as a provider of maritime security from the southern Atlantic to the southern Indian oceans. Negotiations for a trade arrangement between India, Mercosur and the Southern Africa Customs Union are also being expedited.
The IBSA summit's focus on social inclusiveness suggests the three countries also see value in learning from each other's welfare programmes like the Brazilian Bolsa Familia and India's employment guarantee scheme. And their special emphasis on Haiti's reconstruction is a reflection of their stated commitment to the wider developing world.