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IBSA – Closer Social Connections, Not Just Gov’t Ties

Mario Osava

BRASILIA, Apr 16 2010 (IPS) - The IBSA Fund, which finances anti-poverty projects in the most vulnerable countries, is an example of the spirit in which India, Brazil and South Africa wish to build their partnership, their leaders say.

The fund was set up in 2004, one year after the India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) Dialogue Forum was created, with annual contributions of one million dollars from each member. It currently supports reconstruction in Haiti after the January earthquake, agriculture in Guinea-Bissau, and projects in other African and Asian countries like Burundi and Cambodia.

Resources are limited and information is scanty about the fund, and about IBSA in general. Journalists tend to focus more on the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) group, because of the power these countries have in global economics and politics when they join forces.

IBSA is a “unique structure which focuses on individuals in civil society,” Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Thursday at the IBSA Summit in the Brazilian capital.

Six forums were held in parallel this week, bringing together women, researchers, journalists, parlamentarians, local governments and small businesses, indicating that this is “a project that belongs to our societies,” said Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the Summit’s host.

Bottom-up development and horizontal South-South cooperation have a significance that goes beyond the three countries because they are constructing new paradigms, according to Rathin Roy, head of the International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG), created by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Brazilian government.

Working with governments and business leaders, IBSA has made progress in terms of political cooperation and negotiations or agreements on trade preferences with the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), of which Brazil is a member, the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), headed by South Africa, and India.

However, journalists have failed to keep up with this process and with the economic and geopolitical changes taking place in the world today that are bringing about a shift in power relations, according to reporters invited to the IBSA Editors Forum Wednesday, organised by the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and supported by the Brazilian Foreign Ministry and the World Bank.

In order to bridge this gap, some 20 participants from Brazil, India and South Africa proposed that the IBSA Summit add a working group on communication to the 16 existing ones, create a web site for information about IBSA, and establish a programme to wake journalists up to these new developments.

IPS Director General Mario Lubetkin delivered the report from the Editors Forum, accompanied by Carlos Tiburcio, a special adviser to President Lula.

IBSA is “the champion of South-South cooperation” and its members have developed “fascinating programmes” that deserve wider dissemination, said Yiping Zhou, head of the UNDP Special Unit for South-South Cooperation, at the Editors Forum.

The most frequently cited programmes at the IBSA Summit and its forums were Brazil’s programme of family subsidies (Bolsa Familia), assisting 11 million poor families, India’s Rural Employment Guarantee scheme which benefited 34 million people in 2009, and South African programmes of employment in public works and social services.

“Our countries should not continue to receive news about each other via New York or London,” but directly, said the Brazilian ambassador to South Africa, José Vicente Pimentel, at the Editors Forum, where Brazil’s deputy minister for communication, Ottoni Fernandes, proposed cooperation between public television broadcasters across IBSA.

The Indian ambassador to Brazil, B.S. Prakash, highlighted the partnership between three great multicultural and multiethnic democracies that share common values, and acknowledged that the soap opera “Caminho das Índias” (India – A Love Story) produced last year by TV Globo “did more than 20 ambassadors could” to bring knowledge of India to the Brazilian people, although to a certain extent it fell into stereotypes.

“I was very pleased to have awoken curiosity among Brazilians about India and its culture,” said Gloria Perez, the author of the soap, in a message to the editors.

Makhtar Diop, World Bank country director for Brazil, reported that the developing South now has greater weight within the institution, where reforms will increase representation, giving more countries and social sectors a voice, as well as increasing transparency and “making its documents public.” The press plays an important role in this process, he said.

There were a large number of forums surrounding the IBSA Summit, which marked the conclusion of the labours of the 16 working groups covering areas like agriculture, defence, social development, climate change and tourism.

The IBSA Women’s Forum called for new mechanisms and more effective enforcement of international treaties combating violence and discrimination against women and girls. It also launched a book, “Elaborating an Inclusive Macroeconomic Structure: a South-South Feminist Approach”, the result of a 2008 seminar with representatives from all three countries.

The Academic Forum, organised by IPC-IG, concluded that the “capability and will” exist for joint research on key issues for fighting poverty and exclusion within IBSA, and expressed particular concern about production of essential medicines, and about neglected diseases.

The final declaration of the IBSA Summit is a lengthy 45-point document that addresses a range of issues, from United Nations reform to climate change, empowerment of women and the launch of two satellites, for earth observation and weather studies, to be jointly built by IBSA countries.

Agricultural cooperation is the subject of a specific document containing scenario predictions for 2030 and cooperation and exchange programmes.

The IBSA Summit, and the BRIC Summit immediately afterward on Thursday evening, were both the targets of protests by the international environmental organisation Greenpeace in which four activists dressed as trees, a barrel of oil and a solar panel accused the governments of contributing to global warming by failing to stop deforestation and relying on fossil fuels.

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