By Paranjoy Guha Thakurta
Brazil and India are together sending out a clear message to the rest of the world – do not ignore us when it comes to discussing and resolving important issues such as global warming, peaceful uses of nuclear energy, bio-fuels, farm subsidies and United Nations reforms.
Analysts believe the third meeting in three years between Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh could mark the beginning of a new chapter in international relations.
Meetings held by the two heads of state in New Delhi since Sunday and set to last through Tuesday signify not only a strengthening of South-South solidarity but a growing confidence on the part of the two developing countries to engage with the United States and the Group of Eight (G8) developed nations.
As Lula stated: “…our countries share a converging, innovative and hopeful perception of the worldà Faced with an unequal world order incapable of responding to problems of development and collective security, India and Brazil avow their confidence in multilateralism and, through democratic dialogue, have been undertaking increasing international responsibilitiesàThe international community regards both of our countries as indispensable actors in reshaping the economic order as well as international politics.”
In a joint declaration ahead of the G8 summit in Germany, India and Brazil held “unsustainable production and consumption patterns of the developed world” responsible for the problems of climate change and stated that perpetuation of poverty in developing countries could not be a solution to global warning. This formulation seeks to counter the view held by certain developed countries, including the U.S., that the burden of adjustments for climate change on account of global warming should be shifted to fast-growing countries of the South like China, India and Brazil.
As Brazil’s President said: “It is high time the main emerging economies were heard more on major global issues such as climate change, sustainable development, new and renewable energy sources and finance for development. It is necessary to listen to emerging economies not only because the populations of our countries are directly affected by those issues, but particularly because our countries have been capable of innovative solutions to these multiple challenges.”
Lula’s engagements in New Delhi had a strong economic content. Addressing a gathering of corporate captains on Monday, he said that annual two-way trade between India and Brazil could touch 10 billion US dollars by 2010 against 2.4 billion dollars at present. This figure had stood at less than half a billion dollars in 2000. The President pointed out that in the last three years, Brazil’s exports to India had risen dramatically by over 420 percent and imports from India by more than 340 per cent.
“The fact that Lula came with 100 businessmen from his country makes a lot of sense,” says Pradeep S. Mehta, secretary general of Consumer Unity and Trust Society International, a policy research and advisory group based in Jaipur, India. He told IPS in an interview that the initiatives to strengthen South-South trade were significant and prudent because “if both Brazil and India increase their dependence on trade with the West, such a move would be fraught with danger”
Mehta said he would have liked to see another head-of-state in New Delhi. “The only person missing was Thabo Mbeki (President of South Africa),” he quipped referring to the India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) dialogue forum. The IBSA forum emphasizes economic cooperation and has also created a facility for alleviation of poverty and hunger with the support of the United Nations Development Programme. “At IBSA, our three great democracies in the southern hemisphere have signposted their vision of new world architecture based upon collective solidarity,” Lula said.
Brazil, India and South Africa have come together in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to oppose the US government’s decision not to cut agricultural subsidies, while pressing developing countries to provide greater market access to the products of developed countries. Speaking to Indian journalists in London before flying to New Delhi on Sunday, Lula said he was hopeful that the Doha Development Round of the WTO would be concluded soon.
He identified agriculture, information technology, alternative energy, pharmaceuticals, information technology, aerospace and nuclear power as areas that held tremendous scope for cooperation and collaboration with India. On pharmaceuticals, the President said: “Brazil’s recent decision to opt for compulsory licensing of an anti-retroviral drug paves the way for the purchase of cheap generics from India and hence, ensures the continuity of Brazil’s successful AIDS treatment programme, saving thousands of lives.”
Lula said private enterprises in both countries needed to cooperate with their governments to create a new world market for bio-fuels. “There is a huge potential in the renewable energy sectoràThis can generate jobs in the countryside and reduce poverty,” he told Brazilian and Indian industrialists, adding that another area of cooperation was to build infrastructure facilities in both countries. He was of the view that “not even 10 percent” of the bilateral trade opportunities had been identified.
Lula said Brazil offered Indian goods access to the entire region of Mercosur or Mercado Común del Sur (comprising Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Venezuela). India’s commerce minister, Kamal Nath, pointed out that while India had signed a preferential trade agreement with Mercosur in March 2005 providing for tariff concessions on 450-odd traded products, the agreement had not yet come into effect as ratification by the legislatures of Brazil and Argentina was awaited.
The India-Brazil joint declaration looked forward to a “programme of cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy consistent with… international obligations”. New Delhi and Washington hope to sign a controversial civilian nuclear agreement and India is keen on obtaining the support of Brazil in this regard. Brazil is said to be an influential member of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group comprising 45-countries.
India and Brazil reiterated their support for each other’s candidature as permanent members of an expanded United Nations Security Council and said “no reform of the UN would be complete without reform of the Security Council”. “The democratisation of the Security Council is no longer a far-flung dream,” Lula said, adding: “Our joint aspiration to become permanent members of the Security Council has gained increased support revealing the credibility which we have attained in the global debate on the future of collective security.”
Of the seven memoranda of understanding and agreements signed by the two countries, the biggest was the one to swap offshore hydrocarbon assets between the two largest government-owned oil exploration companies, India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) and Brazil’s Petroleo Brasiliero SA (Petrobras). The two have offered equity stakes varying between 15 percent and 40 percent in each other’s offshore oil exploration blocks.
On the space front, an agreement was signed to allow the Indian Space Research Organisation to develop an earth station in Brazil that would enable it to receive data from Indian remote sensing satellites. In a speech at an official banquet, Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam said Brazil and India could cooperate in the development of a 100-seater passenger jet aircraft that could be marketed all over the world.
“The two democracies realise that they are poised to play a more important role in the evolving global scenario as they are both regional growth poles as well as pillars of regional stability in South Asia and Latin America,” says Abdul Nasey, professor and head of Latin American studies at New Delhi’s prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Nasey told IPS in an interview that it would be in the interests of the U.S. and other G8 countries to seek closer partnerships with two important developing countries like India and Brazil. But would the distinctly left-of-centre ideological inclinations of the current governments of the two countries not dissuade the West from forging closer links with them?
“We use the term ‘left’ for want of a better word,” says Nasey, adding that the governments of both Brazil and India “are firmly on the path of economic liberalisation and believe they stand to gain by integrating their economies with global market forces.” He explained that since Brazil is a major exporter of agricultural products, the country wants greater access to U.S. and European markets. “Both Brazil and India are not against free trade, they want fair trade.”
There was more than a flavour of Brazil in New Delhi during President Lula’s visit. Food festivals, dance performances, art exhibitions and Samba music shows were organised, featuring prominent people from the Portuguese-speaking country. In his speeches, Lula lavished praise on India’s political leaders, Gandhi and Nehru.
He said Brazil greatly admired India for its ‘unity in diversity’ and compared the efforts of both countries to build secular, multi-cultural societies. He was struck by the proximity of a mosque, a temple, a church and a gurudwara (a Sikh temple) to one another in the older quarter of the Indian capital.
Born 62 years ago to an impoverished, illiterate family and having worked as a shoe-shine boy and street peddler, the labour-union-leader-turned-head-of-the-largest-Latin American-country, Lula has become quite a cult figure in India. The government in New Delhi pulled out all the stops for him and his entourage. On Monday, he received an award for ‘international understanding’ named after India’s first Prime Minister Nehru, an award whose earlier recipients include Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela.
Inter Press Service