Ibsa: what’s in it for business?

2011-10-22 08:54

As the curtain comes down on the fifth India-Brazil-South Africa (Ibsa) summit, questions are being asked about its value and impact after eight years of existence.

The short answer is that the value of collaboration between these three emerging, influential democracies cannot be overemphasised and that initiatives such as Ibsa should continue to be strengthened rather than undermined.

Within the Ibsa umbrella, the business forum is one of the most influential and critical components as, without business, the utility of the
entire endeavour will be drastically reduced.

The forum convened in Pretoria last week, where business representatives from the three countries met in a plenary session and then broke away into five sector-focused groups. These groups then came away with recommendations delivered to the respective countries’ ministers of trade.

The recommendations were also delivered to the three heads of state. The overarching theme of the business deliberations was the promotion of complementary trade and investment between the three countries.

The detail of how this could be achieved was left to the respective countries’ business people to determine. Business advocacy grouping Business Unity SA (Busa) played a key coordinating role in this, along with the Confederation of Indian Industries and Brazil’s National Confederation of Industry. Trade and Investment South Africa worked closely with Busa.

Although the forum was split into sectoral focus groups, a number of interrelated recommendations emerged. The importance of improving trade-related infrastructure such as ports, road and rail systems emerged prominently.

Furthermore, the need to ease people’s movement was discussed. Recommendations in this regard included increasing air links and allowing the issuing of long-term visas, thereby allowing legitimate business people to travel freely and frequently among the three countries.

The respective countries’ business people also agreed on the need to create a permanent Ibsa business platform that would safeguard institutional memory and monitor the outcomes of all their activities.

In assessing the value of such deliberations, it becomes imperative to briefly examine some of the issues that were discussed and the recommendations made in order to ascertain their practicality.

A key example emerged from the agriculture and agroprocessing sectoral group, which determined that tariff information from some of the Ibsa countries was difficult to obtain and was often outdated.

Similarly, the sector group on healthcare and pharmaceuticals determined that the mutual recognition of qualifications from other Ibsa members could help to accelerate trade and investment among the

three countries. All three countries have fast-expanding markets for pharmaceutical products, particularly generics, and tackling problems of this nature could help free up business people to fulfil the overall Ibsa mandate.

The sector group on mining and infrastructure identified the paucity of information on mineral prospects in remote areas and the lack of clarity on the processes required to obtain mining rights and licences as key problems.

Other problems highlighted include the lack of finance for mining exploration. The forum was not only about identifying impediments to trade and investment but about creating a platform for business people to sharetheir expertise.

This finds easy application in energy and climate change, where Brazil is a global leader in biofuels, India is a major manufacturer of wind-turbine components and South Africa is on a drive to produce more green energy.

In short, a lot of constructive and practical ideas emerged from the Ibsa business forum. The messages have been delivered to our respective ministers and heads of state, and it is now up to business in all three countries to ensure that their recommendations are fully implemented.

» Majokweni is Busa’s chief executive

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