The “IBSAization” of the BRICS

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Who thinks the BRICS merely organize a yearly meeting among its heads of government is mistaken: Over the past years, Brazil, Russia, India and China (and since last year South Africa) have establish ties between a growing number of ministries, agencies and non-governmental organizations to consult on a regular basis.

One day before the leaders' summit on March 29, for example, the BRICS Trade and Industry Ministers and their delegations are set to meet for the first time - a practice that already exists within the IBSA framework, which includes India, Brazil and South Africa. A preparatory meeting on economic and trade issues (CGETI), attended by members of each country's trade ministries, starts in New Delhi tomorrow, seeking to provide recommendations on economic and trade cooperation, with a focus on value-added goods. The final declaration of the 2011 BRICS Summit in China included the creation of this contact group. Several members from the South African trade delegation sat in on the BRICS Academic Forum today.

During the track II meeting, creating common regulations and standards has been a major topic, which will inevitably create many more meetings between specialists from several agencies.

Stronger interaction and cooperation between governments is to be welcomed, as the BRICS countries suffer from mutual ignorance. Yet broadening the scope of the BRICS concept raises the question about the usefulness of IBSA, which focuses on cooperation regarding many low-key technical issues rather than geopolitical challenges. That may be precisely the goal of China, which is excluded from the IBSA alliance. South Africa's inclusion into the BRICS group, a unilateral decision taken in China, was precisely meant to weaken the IBSA brand - at the same time, South Africa's inclusion has undoubtely strengthened the BRICS.

Yet IBSA continues to matter - on issues such as human rights, civil society and accountability, having China in the room is unlikely to help much. Given China's continued activism to broaden the BRICS' focus, however, preserving IBSA may be a challenge.

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Photo Credit: BRICS India official site