Journalist | Writer | Analyst
On the eve of the India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) Foreign Ministers meeting in New Delhi, Brazil’s Foreign Minister Celso Amorim spoke to The Hindu about the future and significance of the tri-continental grouping for the evolving international system.
17 July 2007
“We are changing the world’s geography”
After initial scepticism and disinterest, the rest of the world finally seems to have woken up to the reality and significance of IBSA. As one of the inventors of this grouping in 2003, tell us a little about what you had in mind then and where you see it heading today.
I can tell you about the origin of IBSA very precisely. It was on the second day of Lula’s first administration. I received South Africa’s Foreign Minister, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, and she mentioned the idea of having a new group of developing countries because the old groupings like the G15, though useful, were not working very well to create programmes of South-South cooperation. She had several ideas and I told her, let’s do something simple, let us start with three countries in each continent — Brazil, India, and South Africa. There was a logic to this. Our countries had lots of similarities in terms of our positions in international fora — from human rights to disarmament, the World Trade Organisation, Security Council… Since she was going to India, I asked her to mention it to our Indian counterpart. And five or six months later, [the then Indian External Affairs] Minister [Yashwant] Sinha came to Brazil for a bilateral, and I said, why don’t we have a meeting of the three of us. So we had an informal meeting and from then on we created the IBSA forum. Last year, we had the first summit and we will meet again at the highest level this October.
I agree interest today is growing, certainly in our own countries — it is an educational process for our own people because we are more used to looking to Europe, the U.S. or our respective regions. This idea of three big democracies, three multicultural countries in three different parts of the world, is a very special thing and now others are mentioning it. Not only countries like China and Russia are getting interested but even [U.S. Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice, when she came to Brazil, spoke about IBSA as an important development because of the democratic element that is present there. Of course, IBSA is not discriminatory, we are prepared to discuss with other countries. But I think Brazil, South Africa, and India have very special commonalities.
In which direction do you see IBSA evolving?
There are basically three dimensions. First is the development of joint projects of our own — in S&T, health, transport, commerce. In other words, cooperation among ourselves for projects directed towards our own progress. Second is our cooperation vis-À-vis poorer countries. This is the first time you have some developing countries joining forces to help other countries that are poorer than themselves. We already have very successful projects in Haiti and Guinea-Bissau and I think we should move to other areas like Zambia or Burundi, or some country in Asia. Being poor does not mean you cannot have solidarity. And we’ve created a fund. At four billion dollars, it’s not a huge fund but it will grow by a billion every year. The third dimension is the reinforcement of our own cooperation in international fora, like the reform of the UNSC. We are members of G20 in the WTO. President Lula has an expression — changing the world’s geography. He actually spoke of changing the commercial geography but I think it’s not only the commercial but changing the way people see the world. Helping the world to become more multipolar. I think it’s good to have a more democratic world, more countries that have influence. I don’t want to be very prescriptive because everything depends on the situation but IBSA — either individually or jointly — could help in situations like Palestine. We can help in other situations, in Africa say, in which we may have more of an opening for the countries concerned than others.
Earlier this month, Condoleezza Rice said the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) had no relevance and that countries should get together on the basis of values such as democracy. What do you think about the future and relevance of NAM?
Speaking of ‘non-aligned’ today is a bit awkward because it is non-aligned to what? But NAM may still have a role. This is essentially a group of developing countries and you have all shades of political positions. NAM puts countries together, offers possibilities of discussion. But I am more confident that diversified coalitions in different formats can do better work. I think IBSA is certainly one. We are democracies, but when I say this, we are not importing western style democracy. Each of our countries is developing democracy in the full sense but also with the social content which is very important because it is not only the formalities of democracy that count. We are countries with multicultural situations but also problems. We are all strategically located in each one of our regions. So I think IBSA is probably more effective, which doesn’t exclude other configurations. For example, very often we speak of the BRICs and we had a first meeting of [Brazil, Russia, India, and China] which was a bit informal, arranged by the Russians, at the U.N. General Assembly last year and I think we should go on discussing these things. I think there are different configurations and we should not stick only to one. For example, Brazil is a member of Mercosur, the South American market. Sometimes people say, ‘Brazil has Mercosur, and what about IBSA?’ Well, I think a good strategic relation between Brazil and India will only help Mercosur. My dream is countries like India, Brazil, and South Africa — and the whole of Mercosur and SACU [Southern African Customs Union] — can form a big economic space. Of course it will take time, but that will enable us to be in a better position to face the North in a creative, competitive way.
During the Heiligendamm G8 outreach meeting, President Lula said the outreach countries should have their own forum. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also raised questions about the utility of an outreach group as an appendage to the G8.
Well, there’s not much point for us to come for the dessert when the meal is over! There is a danger even, because sometimes there is confusion because you participate in a meeting and there is a document issued which is not our document but we were half in the meeting so people don’t know if we subscribe or not. So we have to reflect on this. I don’t want to see only the negative side. On the positive, there has been this evolution. In the beginning, there was no invitation, we were not there, there was no dialogue. So it’s a beginning but it has to change, and we have to move towards a G13 or something like that in the near future. But as long as this doesn’t happen, I think the G5 should meet among themselves to have well-coordinated positions. We may not agree on everything — this is natural. The G8 don’t agree on everything either! But I think it is important and that is why President Lula raised this.
One of the IBSA projects that has not gone far is UNSC reform. Should we rethink the G4 concept? Should IBSA be cutting edge, since the case of the three developing countries is the most compelling?
These are historical processes and we have to be a little patient. It takes time to change the basic structures of the world. I think IBSA certainly has a role in pushing the reform but I think the G4 also has a role. Certainly, India and Brazil have a very strong stake because developing countries are the ones not represented. But when discussions started about the UNSC in 1993, it was the opposite. Germany and Japan were the strong candidates. Now that has changed. But I think apart from big developing countries, having countries with a strong influence in world affairs is important. So I think the G4 has its usefulness, which doesn’t exclude IBSA of course.
Once the Nuclear Suppliers Group changes its rules to allow commerce with India, what would be the scope for bilateral cooperation with Brazil and India? Do you envisage cooperation extending to the fuel cycle?
If you are able to develop an effective safeguards agreement, I don’t see any problem. I think we should start with the softer areas, like nuclear medicine, the use of isotopes for food preservation, but I don’t think we should be limited to that. For us, the important thing is that cooperation has to be for peaceful purposes. If we can clearly isolate it from any other use, I don’t see any problem.
If I can ask you a question linked to the other hat you wear as Trade Minister, does the failure of the Potsdam meeting of the U.S., the EU, Brazil, and India last month mean the end of the road for the Doha round?
The rich countries have to learn that they cannot just put pressure on developing countries and think they will have the result that they devised as the one that is convenient for them. They have to negotiate. They are used to negotiating among themselves and coming to us with readymade solutions. In Potsdam, they underestimated our sense of balance and dignity. I don’t think they necessarily did it in bad faith but it’s just old habits. So now the situation is certainly more difficult than it would have been, but I don’t think it’s impossible.
When I look at the world and the need to have measures that can really have an effect in terms of combating poverty, crime, and even terrorism, the best thing that can be done is a trade deal that is really development friendly. And that is what we’re looking for. Somehow, in the midst of our negotiations, instead of having an agreement for a development round, it became a round in which the rich countries were looking for advantages. We understand that in order for the U.S. to sell reduction of subsidies, or for the EU to sell larger increase in their markets, they need to show something in return. But the big thing in return would be that both [rich and poor] are reforming at the same time. They can’t reverse the order of things and make openings in industry, NAMA, or openings in special products in India as the key to the round. That is the opposite! They have the key to the round. If you reduce subsidies to what they should be — the G20 proposal is $12.1 billion, which is still more than what they spent last year — then of course we will also move. But you can’t reverse the order of things and have a knife in our chest and say that if you don’t move in NAMA and industrial products, there will be no round. Come on! This is no more the Uruguay round. This is the Doha development round.
Is the stalemate a blessing in disguise because it forces countries like India, Brazil, and South Africa to explore new commercial geographies?
We should explore other avenues. I think it would be very, very, very important and I hope our heads of government deal with that in October — the idea of having a large economic space involving Brazil, Mercosur, SACU and India … But I still think the WTO is important. Our relations with the rich world are not minor.
We do need a system, rules which are stable, which allow us to go for dispute settlement — as we have done in the case of cotton, sugar, U.S. subsidies. This system is necessary; we cannot abandon it. [The stalemate] is a blessing in disguise in that it alerts us to other possibilities but we cannot take it too far on that road because the WTO continues to be essential. It is the only multilateral trade body there is.