IBSA: A Powerful Driver of Change

Global Centre Stage

In an era of globalisation, economy and politics are interlinked. So economic development, international security and global governance need to be analysed from an interdisciplinary point of view to understand international political economy. Veenita Hede analyses the role of India-Brazil-South Africa Dialogue Forum and highlights ways IBSA can emerge as an important force in international politics by raising important issues such as global governance, sustainable development and development cooperation

The establishment of the IBSA as one of the principal platforms of South-South cooperation is one of the most notable developments in international politics during the first decade of the 21st century (Stuenkel, 2014). IBSA has the potential to play a unique role in global governance reform. As regional economic powers, the three member countries are in a good position to promote South-South trade and cooperation and reduce their dependence on Western economies. As diverse and populous democracies, they embody a powerful alternative vision to both mainstream Western neoliberal models and Chinese-style authoritarian development (Stuenkel, 2015).

In June 2003, at a meeting held in the Brazilian capital, the foreign ministers of India, Brazil, and South Africa formally launched a new diplomatic initiative called IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa). This trilateral partnership between emerging industrialised economies was premised on a shared definition of the possibilities and gains attainable through cooperation. Its leaders hoped that through the formation of a formalised developing country dialogue, they could lay the foundation for policy coordination on trade and security issues in the global arena (IBSA, 2006).

According to then Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, “IBSA is a unique model of transnational cooperation based on a common political identity. Our three countries come from three different continents but share similar world views and aspirations” (Singh, 2007).

These resemblances are originated in their common experience with colonialism or imperialism and the social and economic disparities that came with it and emphasised over time. Given their growing economic importance and the central role played by their diplomacies in multilateral negotiations, they also share the status of emerging powers of the South. Their common behaviour on the international stage is the consequence of their constant assessment of the contemporary global order and their actual political engagement with the dominant political and economic challenges for the South. But, at the same time, this endeavour to formally interweave the IBSA processes at government levels along with leadership commitments is not matched by a similar urge in the IBSA countries’ respective regional settings. These factors introduce important constraints on IBSA and its prospects to act as an effective diplomatic partnership aimed at influencing international processes (Alden and Vieira, 2011).

A Potent Force in International Politics

According to Dr Daniel Flames, “IBSA offers a case study of one recent exercise in coalition-building among southern powers as a vehicle for change in international relations. It analyses the global interests, strategies and values of IBSA and the impact of the IBSA Dialogue Forum on the global order” (Flames, 2014). However, there are several possible issues, like global governance, sustainable development and development cooperation that need to be addressed while evaluating IBSA’s importance in international politics.

IBSA’s reform debate of the United Nations and its functional leadership in WTO negotiations imitates a countervailing force to the current hierarchy of the global order. It shows that in a short range, IBSA is using ‘voice opportunities’ provided by institutions such as the UN, WTO, G8 Summits, G77 and NAM to dent the superpower’s unilateral policies. IBSA’s soft balancing strategy in the long term aims at the formation of a multipolar system based on the rule of international law. India, Brazil, and South Africa want to become power poles of that prospective multipolar world. But, the IBSA states in several occurrences struggled for possession goals and neglected their ‘global responsibility’, as exemplified by their position on global warming. At the G8 summit in Heiligendamm, Lula da Silva, Singh and Mbeki stated that they are not ready to accept binding greenhouse emission targets for their countries. Instead they highlighted the industrialised world’s responsibility for global warming and the emerging countries’ right to economic development.

On a discourse of global justice and democratic multilateralism, the emerging middle powers base their demands in international institutions. Unlike traditional middle powers, the IBSA states are leaders of under represented developing regions. This collection is used very skilfully by IBSA’s foreign policy makers in order to climb towards the league of global players – sometimes at the cost of milieu goals and global responsibility.

However, IBSA’s success will depend on its ability to focus on distinct areas of cooperation and avoid controversial areas that tend to hold up the cooperation process. Although some authors criticised IBSA’s lack of a clear strategy (Alden and Vieira, 2005: 1088), a strategy of soft balancing using institutional instruments of interest-assertion in order to achieve common milieu goals has seen some progress.

At first glance, a mix of the different market structures of industrialised and developing economies could create profitable collaboration opportunities. However, in the current constellation, IBSA’s role might be limited to the one of a veto player in the WTO negotiations without a major systemic impact at the global level (Flames, 2007).

Sectoral Collaboration for Development

The consequence of liberalisation and deregulation in developing countries has helped world trade grow at a significant pace in recent years. India, Brazil and South Africa have been part of this progressive growth. It is estimated that two-thirds of South-South trade takes place in Asia. In Latin America, intra-regional trade expands faster than trade with countries outside the region. However, Africa remains the only region that has not benefited meaningfully from the growth of trade among developing countries, with intra-African trade constituting less than 15 percent of the region’s exports (Chatterjee and Dhoot, 2006: 25).

The Brasilia Declaration, which institutionalised IBSA cooperation, states that the IBSA platform’s main objective is economic cooperation. IBSA’s sectoral collaboration aims at mutually reinforcing the economic strength by synergising their complementarities in the areas of industry, services, trade and technology (Kumar, 2006: 18).

IBSA’s potential synergies in sector collaboration are mixed. In particular, the perspectives of bi- and trilateral trade are limited by a number of constraints. The different sizes and degrees of global integration of the economies lead to different degrees of trade benefits.

Additionally, India, Brazil and South Africa are not natural trading partners, and hence, there are limits to commercial exchanges between them. Though on several occasions a trilateral trade agreement has been discussed, it is unlikely to materialise between these three countries as they are technically bound to regional trade blocks. Trade facilitation and the improvement of transport and infrastructure links between the three players would be a more realistic approach. Other sectors such as energy security offer more synergies. Yet, a detailed quantitative analysis of the several sectors must be carried out to estimate the potential gains for each country (Flames, 2007).

IBSA Fund for Development Cooperation

Created in 2004, the IBSA Facility Fund for Alleviation of Poverty and Hunger became operational in 2006, where all three countries decided to contribute an annual amount of $1 million. According to the IBSA governments, the Trust Fund operates through a demand-driven approach (Stuenkel, 2014a).

Even though small in size, the IBSA Fund received the 2010 MDG (Millennium Development Goals) Award for South-South Cooperation by the NGO “Millennium Development Goals Awards Committee”. In 2012, the Fund earned the “South-South and Triangular Cooperation Champions Award”, given by the United Nations for its innovative approach (Ibid).

The IBSA Fund has financed projects in Haiti, Guinea Bissau, Cape Verde, Burundi, Palestine, Cambodia, Lao PDR and Sierra Leone. These projects include desalinisation, increased access to drinking water, provision of water for agriculture, medical services for children and adolescents with special needs, farming, irrigation, solar energy and even leadership training. To date, a series of small projects in developing countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia have been implemented.

The IBSA Fund is a great idea that may not only alleviate poverty, but also enhance the debate about innovative ways of poverty reduction and robust South-South cooperation. Yet in order to make a serious contribution to the global debate, IBSA governments should dramatically enhance financial support, and make the Fund’s operation more transparent.

The trilateral coalition suffers from considerable divergence of interest in global governance issues and limited potential gains of its sectoral cooperation, particularly in trade, due to a lack of complementarities of the participating economies. But despite these obstacles, the IBSA Forum has impacted the global order in recent years as a powerful driver of change. India, Brazil and South Africa have contributed to an incremental global power shift in their favour. The southern coalition also induced a change in the character of multilateralism and, in particular, its procedural values (Flames, 2014).

Go to Content Page

Back to Top

Diplomatist Magazine was launched in October of 1996 as the signature magazine of L.B. Associates (Pvt) Ltd, a contract publishing house based in Noida, a satellite town of New Delhi, India, the National Capital.