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DEVELOPMENT: IBSA Summit a “Political Endorsement” for Future Plans

Tafi Murinzi

JOHANNESBURG, Oct 20 2007 (IPS) - A slew of co-operation agreements emerged from the second IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa) summit in Pretoria, South Africa, this week.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, Brazil’s Luiz Inácio da Silva and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh were on hand in the South African capital Wednesday to initial the accords, which cover a broad range of issues: wind resources, health and medicines, culture, public administration, higher education, and customs and tax administration.

Certain analysts were critical of the summit’s achievements, saying it failed to make real headway with matters central to trade between the three regional powers – such as tariffs.

However, Tom Wheeler, a fellow at the Johannesburg-based South African Institute of International Affairs, said it was still early days for the trilateral grouping – and that the summit was a “political endorsement” of future co-operation plans.

Greg Mills – head of the Brenthurst Foundation, a policy research institute based in Johannesburg – further noted that boosting commerce and investment in the IBSA bloc was a daunting task, not least because South Africa and Brazil had economies with similar trade profiles.

Established in 2003, IBSA aims to promote South-South links, mainly through trade and investment. It operates by way of regular, high level gatherings and bi-annual summits. The next IBSA summit will take place in India, in 2008.

The 52-point declaration issued by the three governments Wednesday indicates their intention to double intra-IBSA trade to 15 billion dollars by 2010.

The group re-affirmed its goal of achieving a free trade agreement between India, the MERCOSUR bloc of South America and the Southern African Customs Union, while noting that “significant progress” in this regard was made in negotiations earlier this month.

Observing that the Doha round of global trade negotiations was entering a “crucial stage”, the summit also called for the removal of barriers in world-wide agricultural trade that undermine production in developing nations. (The round takes its name from the Qatari capital where it was initiated in 2001.)

Other issues dealt with by the summit include human rights, counter terrorism and the elimination of nuclear weapons, which India possesses. Delegates noted the lack of progress in nuclear non-proliferation.

“Considering that India has signed on, this is an important statement,” Wheeler said. But, “I suppose it’s on condition that others (nuclear powers) do the same.”

Brazil and South Africa are putting greater emphasis on nuclear enrichment for increased commercial use.

The countries identified defence as an area for future co-operation, South Africa revealing that in May next year the three nations’ navies would participate in joint exercises.

Two additional IBSA working groups, on human settlement development and environment and climate change, were established.

Endorsing multilateralism, IBSA nonetheless called for reform of the United Nations, especially an expansion of the Security Council to ensure that it “reflects contemporary realities”. Demands for change at the U.N. have gained currency in recent years. India, Brazil and South Africa all aspire to have permanent seats on the council.

Mills warned that the IBSA states should take care not to “appear like an exclusive club”, and should reach out to other countries in the group of emerging states. These include China, Mexico, Pakistan and Indonesia.

China and Mexico, along with Nigeria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, were among the states Mbeki invited to take part in a proposed G8 of the South several years ago – a grouping that has not proved successful. The G8 comprises the world’s eight leading industrialised nations, all in the North.

Mbeki, da Silva and Singh also urged resolution of the crises in Sudan, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and the Middle East.

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