Saturday, October 11, 2008

IBSA SUMMIT: Motlanthe's first South-South summit takes place amid Northern financial storm

The leaders of India, Brazil, and South Africa are expected to focus on strengthening their trilateral cooperation at their summit in Delhi on October 15.

The summit – the first top-level diplomatic conclave to be attended by new South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, hosted by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, both joined by Brazilian President Luiz InĂ¡cio Lula da Silva – will be the third summit of the India, Brazil, South Africa Dialogue Forum (IBSA).

It will also be the first IBSA summit since the start of the current international financial crisis, which is not yet directly affecting any of the IBSA States, but could have significant indirect effects on them.

With a combined gross domestic product, in purchasing power parity terms, of nearly $5,3-trillion (India: almost $3-trillion, Brazil: nearly $1,85-trillion, South Africa: over $460-billion), IBSA is a significant grouping on the world stage.

"It will be interesting to see what comes out of the summit, and watch how its helps the member countries to achieve their trilateral objectives. From the course of the previous summits, and in the preparations for this one, there is evidence of greater synergy between the three countries," highlights Indian High Commissioner to South Africa Rajiv Bhatia.

"The three countries also desire to strengthen their cooperation. A large number of sectors are involved, particularly agriculture, trade and industry, science and technology, tourism, and culture," Bhatia told Engineering News Online in an interview.

Already, on September 29, the Foreign Ministers of the three countries, meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York, reaffirmed their countries' commitment to further strengthening their bloc. They stated a joint resolve to improve the coordination of their positions on global issues which have a major impact on developing countries.

At the moment, officials are busy finalising the Delhi Declaration, which will be adopted at the summit. "This is expected to cover all important IBSA matters," he says. "It will probably reflect the positions of the member countries on important issues and define how their trilateral cooperation is developing, and perhaps indicate the views of the IBSA countries on important international issues."

IBSA is a loose but functional bloc, centred not on bureaucratic structures but on practical cooperation in designated functional fields, and coordination of certain policy areas in global arenas, such as the UN and the World Trade Organisation.

"IBSA is seen by us as a unique institution, a dialogue forum of democracies and pluralistic societies, each from a different continent," affirms Bhatia. "We are crafting a very important and innovative effort to promote, and build on, South-South cooperation."

For example, there is the IBSA Facility Fund for Poverty and Hunger Alleviation, which is now funding seven different projects in some of the world's least developed countries. These include an agricultural development project in Guinea-Bissau, and an irrigation and watershed management project in Laos.