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Sixth IBSA Summit

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  • May 21, 2013
    Round Table

    The Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses organised a Round Table on the forthcoming “Sixth IBSA Summit” on May 21, 2013. The discussion chaired by the DG, IDSA, Dr. Arvind Gupta, intended to evaluate IBSA's achievements and performance over the last decade, since its inception in 2003. The participants in the round table included H.E Mr. Carlos Duarte, Ambassador of Brazil to India, Mr. Mark Reynhardt, Counsellor, South African High Commission, Ambassador Rajagopalan, Ambassador Deepak Bhojwani, Dr. Ash Narain Roy, Institute for Social Science, Prof. Abdul Nafey, JNU, Dr. Sachin Chaturvedi, RIS and Ms. Ruchita Beri, IDSA.

    Following is the summary of the points highlighted by the speakers:

    • The year 2013 marks the tenth anniversary of IBSA as a formal group. IBSA began as a group of three large developing democracies that had witnessed high economic growth in the past decade. The speakers noted that the IBSA grouping is very much trans-regional and represents the changing world order and the basic debates and issues of the developing world.
    • Democracy and development are important themes for these countries and these countries are capable of providing development assistance in real terms in the form of sectoral cooperation among the working groups and through the IBSA Trust Fund. The IBSA Trust Fund is a very important aspect of South-South cooperation. It has managed to do well despite its minimal resources and is making a difference in some of the developing countries, especially in Africa. There was a general consensus among the speakers on the need for strengthening and streamlining the IBSA Trust Fund. A major problem of this fund has been the non-expenditure of a large amount of money contributed by the member countries.
    • The Round Table highlighted the relevance of IBSA in the light of the emergence of BRICS grouping. IBSA precedes BRICS and there are no grey areas in IBSA like those in BRICS; IBSA is a unique forum where all its members are developing, pluralistic, multicultural, multiethnic, multilingual and multiracial in nature. Since they are two different entities altogether, IBSA and BRICS cannot be compared. The speakers added that IBSA is a group of like-minded countries with very little baggage while BRICS have shown signs of some internal differences among members. It was also argued that while BRICS is a geopolitical grouping, IBSA is a geo-economic grouping.
    • At the international level, IBSA countries have exhibited a desire of acting together under the umbrella of multilateral organisations. They cooperate a great deal at the UN; for example, IBSA countries abstained in the UNGA Resolution on Syria as it had not taken their suggestions into consideration. There was consensus among the speakers that the UNSC should be expanded to enable the presence of IBSA at the high table.
    • At its tenth anniversary it is time to re-energise the Working Groups and streamline them in order to make them more effective. While on one hand, there has been a qualitative and quantitative leap in intra-IBSA trade over the last decade, on the other hand, bilateral trade between IBSA countries and China has almost tripled. Therefore, there is a large scope for improvement here. There was also a suggestion of speeding up the process of Preferential Trade agreement (PTA) with Southern African Customs Union (SACU) and Mercado Comun del Sur (MERCOSUR) to enhance trade among IBSA countries. A Free Trade Area in the future could also be envisioned.
    • It was also argued that the academic capital of the three countries is a great potential that still remains untapped, it could be looked at as the drivers for future summits.
    • The participants noted that unemployment is a major challenge for all the member countries and to address the issue it was suggested that the development of Small and medium Enterprises (SMEs) could help to a great extent. The IBSA member countries can help each other by exchanging their best practices in areas of healthcare, pension and urban growth.
    • Since the member countries are keen to cooperate on defence and strategic issues, a joint understanding on the issue of piracy on the eastern and western coast of Africa and joint military exercises among the IBSA countries would be vital. It was pointed out that the member countries could work together in the area of ocean governance as there is a need to ensure secure movement of goods across the seas.
    • IBSA membership should be restricted to the current three member countries. They agreed that the desire of other developing countries to join the grouping may be obvious due to several reasons but any expansion of the membership could sideline the purpose of the creation of the grouping.
    • It is time for IBSA to introspect and streamline its agenda; it needs to increase interactions on people to people level. The major challenge before IBSA is whether it is viewed as a legitimate group by other developing countries. IBSA’s footprints have been very visible during the last decade and the speakers cautioned against writing the obituary of the group.

    Some of the points that came up during the discussion include:

    • IBSA countries should look into implementing and operationalising the projects on their own with funds being handled by them rather than through the UNDP.
    • Member countries should ensure delivering on their commitments and they need to stick to the grouping’s core competencies.
    • An incremental approach is the best way forward for IBSA. There is also a need to harness the soft power of these countries to bring about further cooperation.
    • IBSA could explore the possibilities of instituting IBSA fellowships, IBSA Chairs etc. Thus far, the role of academia and think tanks has only been marginally realised. Smilarly, IBSA has not been able to streamline the role of the civil society. It could engage the civil society in its working to enhance its effectiveness.
    • Increasingly, IBSA is being taken seriously by the western countries. The declarations of the IBSA summit demonstrate that it is gaining more confidence to pronounce its goals and agenda.
    • IBSA and BRICS need not necessarily be seen as opposing to each. They could each preserve their uniqueness and complement one another. IBSA could explore the possibility of a development bank along the lines of BRICS development bank.

    Compiled by Keerthi Sampath Kumar and Saurabh Mishra