India-led G20 and the ensuing troika: A test of time in the Global South

Economic Times, March 12, 2023

By Pradeep S Mehta and Aratrika Deb

While it may be purely coincidental, the next troika of G20 will comprise India, the current chair, Brazil, the successor, and South Africa, the next in line. Each of them are situated in three different continents, comprising the Global South. Expectedly, the troika will enable the countries to continue to coordinate their plans.

As they say, ‘every cloud has a silver lining’. Even in the crevices of the recent global order, a geopolitical fragmentation alongside multifaceted diplomacies, against the backdrop of a pandemic, a ray of hope still prevails for some countries, especially the emerging ones. It is time for them to be proactive and initiate action if not readily implemented, as 2023 happens to be an eventful beginning of G20 presidencies for India, Brazil and South Africa.

The day the G20 presidency moved from Indonesia to India, one of the main agendas announced was to be the spokesperson for the developing or the less developed countries. True to its words, the nation hosted the “Voice of the Global South” Summit on 13th January 2023, to discuss their main concerns in today’s context: ‘Food, Fuel and Fertiliser’- the 3Fs. The event was a mere curtain-raiser, and we are yet to see the bigger picture.

While it may be purely coincidental, the next troika of G20 will comprise India, the current chair, Brazil, the successor, and South Africa, the next in line. Each of them are situated in three different continents, comprising the Global South. Expectedly, the troika will enable the countries to continue to coordinate their plans. Accordingly, the impetus lies in the buttressing of strategic like-mindedness of the three nations.

In 2003, India, Brazil and South Africa came together to form the IBSA Dialogue Forum, on the foundation of a tripartite democracy initiative to promote South-South Cooperation. The next troika under the G20 will hence be a rare and unique opportunity for them, as they get to propagate their agenda.


In the context of international relations, the 21st century is all about restructuring and rebalancing the global order. Looking at the current world scenario and the given timeline of the G20 presidency; the spotlight is on the IBSA countries at this moment. The good thing is that they will represent and pave the way for the Global South. They will be guided by the principles of respect for national sovereignty, national ownership and independence, while stressing priority on their respective areas.

A Human Development Report, released in 2013 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), stated that India, Brazil and South Africa were the three out of the forty countries to show exemplary standards of economic growth and development. The report even mentioned that they have the potential to dethrone the traditional economic powers of the world.

These nations are unique in their own way and have something to contribute to each other and to the Global South. India is known for its technical prowess, low-cost health care products, and solar energy generation. Brazil is known to be a giant in agriculture, and South Africa is a global influencer on environmental conservation and is a leading global actor to have direct access to the African Union (AU). On these grounds, the members of IBSA have to make all efforts to steer unwaveringly towards South-South Cooperation, keeping in mind that they are the face of many vulnerable countries anchored to their objective. To begin with, their focus should correspondingly lie on better healthcare access, increase food security, and climate and energy resilience. They would also have to collectively undertake initiatives to strengthen the multilateral trading system, so that the WTO policies are formulated, with priority given to the developing economies, to make good the losses it suffered earlier.

A possible resurgence

It was Lula da Silva, the then President of Brazil, who realised that countries like theirs were mere spectators in such intergovernmental fora, like G8, and G20. He decided to create a platform, bringing in the then External Affairs Minister of India, Yashwant Sinha, the Foreign Minister of Brazil, Celso Amorim, and the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation of South Africa, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, calling it the IBSA. The sole intent of this initiative was to facilitate dialogue-based discussions that would enhance their representation and inclusion, as self-declared leaders of the Global South.

Over the years, the IBSA has appeared as an effective grouping and deliberated on many issues like global governance, security, climate change, trade, development, intellectual property and the like. There have been five summits held so far, with the last one taking place in 2011 in South Africa’s capital, Pretoria. Although there have been several working-group and ministerial-level meetings thereafter, a leadership conference at such grand level has not been held since 2012. The sixth summit was supposed to be held in India in 2021 but was unable to, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, tagged with several political upheavals.

A notable development under IBSA Framework has been the IBSA Fund which enables other developing countries to take up development projects, primarily for poverty and hunger alleviation. Thus, IBSA’s success demonstrates, most vividly, “the desirability and feasibility of South-South cooperation beyond the conventional areas of exchange of experts and training”.

Given the auspicious opportunity that they have received, the IBSA has to return as a fully functional grouping and utilise every second of it. With the world giving a cold shoulder to Russia and China for their respective inglorious deeds, the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) is gradually becoming redundant. There was a sense of uncertainty about whether Lula da Silva would return as the President of Brazil once again, after 2010. Now that he is sworn in, it will be easier for the three to have an engaging talk on their future plan of action.

Needless to say, India has to take the lead (which it did initiate), now that it is the current G20 President and also the chair of IBSA. A considerable amount of thought has to be provided, where it can revise the 2003 goals, and bring in substantial concerns for a fast-evolving undertaking. It has to meticulously connect its national matters and their tripartite matters with the ones currently being discussed on the G20 forum.

It has been a long time since the IBSA Dialogue Forum has been dormant. With the losing relevance of BRICS, the grouping has found a chance to make a decisive comeback. The years 2023 to 2025 may indeed be a prolonged time span, but is extremely crucial for these three influential democracies. It is about time that we got to witness their successful re-emergence, and their Global South ambitions bearing fruit.

The authors work for CUTS International, a global public policy research and advocacy group.

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