Major hurdle to IBSA initiative

As the foreign ministers of India, Brazil and South Africa (IBSA) met in Cape Town on Monday, to take forward a unique initiative in South-South economic cooperation, a gathering of hard-nosed corporate captains from the three countries discussed the absence of adequate transportation facilities among the IBSA members. Brazil’s foreign minister Celso Amorim, who doubles up as his country’s trade minister, had said that what makes the IBSA grouping unique is that India, Brazil and South Africa (IBSA) are not merely diverse, multi-cultural developing countries but the three countries are all strategically located and important in their respective geographical regions.

However, what the group of businesspersons pointed out was that although there is considerable scope for economic and technical cooperation among the three countries in areas such as energy, mining and aerospace, logistical drawbacks were hampering expansion of trade. They urged their respective governments to improve air connectivity, maritime transport facilities and ease visa restrictions before the forthcoming IBSA Business Summit that would be held in New Delhi later in the year.

Speaking at a session on tourism organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), R Jaishankar, managing director and chief executive officer, UB Group, South Africa — a large Bangalore-based Indian multinational with interests in liquor and aviation — pointed out that of the nine million tourists who visited South Africa in 2007 (of which 4 million flew into the country), barely 50,000 tourists came from India. Over and above high fares, poor air connectivity between India and South Africa discouraged tourists. There is only one flight by one airline between the

two countries because of landing rights. Shortage of aircraft, high fuel costs and intense competition on indirect flights compounded the problem.

The session organised by the CII suggested that representatives of the national airlines in the three countries to discuss the issue of limited landing rights given the likely growth in the demand for air travel among the countries. Specific destinations in the three countries should be marketed more effectively and promoted by the media since tourism has a huge potential to create jobs in all the countries, participants in the session argued, adding that growth in tourism would lead to growth in trade and investment.

It was also recommend by the session that a special IBSA business travel pass

be created along the lines of the APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) pass to ease issuance of visas, including transit visas. Not just businesspersons, representatives of civil society organisations also hold similar views.

“Economic cooperation between and among countries cannot be successful unless there is a better people-to-people interaction and this can happen only through increased investment and tourism,” says Bipul Chatterjee, deputy executive director of CUTS International, a Jaipur (India) based non-governmental think-tank on economic issues. Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has said the IBSA initiative has the potential to alter the world’s commercial geography. But much needs to be done to remove transportation and logistical bottlenecks before such an ambitious goal is realised. — IPS