IPCS Discussion

Brazil and India in a Multilateral World

15 Apr, 2019    ·   5579

Report of the discussion held at IPCS on 26 February 2019

On 26 February 2019, IPCS hosted H.E. Andre Aranha Correa do Lago, Ambassador of Brazil to India, who spoke on ‘Brazil and India in a Multilateral World’. The interaction was held under the aegis of IPCS’ Ambassador Lecture Series, and was chaired by Ambassador (Retd) Sunil Lal, former Ambassador of India to Brazil and Spain. This is a summary report of the proceedings.

Introductory Remarks
Ambassador (Retd) Sunil Lal

The subject of discussion is of great importance as Brazilians are amongst the foremost practitioners of the art of multilateralism and commercial diplomacy. India and Brazil have been strategic partners since 2006. Within the G4, both countries work closely for the reform of the UN Security Council. They are also members of the G2o, where they seek to play a more meaningful role in financial matters. Along with South Africa and China, India and Brazil have collaborated within the BASIC framework to address environmental issues. Finally, India and Brazil are leading supporters of BRICS. The New Development Bank (NDB), which seeks to offer an alternative to the IMF and World Bank without strings attached, is a major success in this regard.

India and Brazil also are a part of IBSA, which was subsumed under BRICS although there have been recent efforts to revive it. Both countries have played a leadership role and coordinated closely in the WTO, WIPO, and various other international forums. They are also major contributors to UN peacekeeping missions. India has a preferential trade agreement with Mercosul, which has been moving forward incrementally, with Brazil being the most pre-eminent country from the Mercosul side. Finally, although India has a special waiver to enjoy NSG benefits, it has sought Brazilian assistance to become a full-fledged member.

Brazil and India in a Multilateral World
H.E. Andre Aranha Correa do Lago

India and Brazil are undoubtedly respected regional leaders. They now share the ambition of becoming global actors on a stage that already has established powers. These are not just military powers but powers in the sense that they have structured international institutions. In this multilateral world, India and Brazil have the objective to contribute substantively to ensure that all voices are heard. Both countries are not satisfied as  mere participants in a structure created by others.

The fact is, many of the established powers have lost touch with the circumstances that affect a majority of the world's population as their decision-makers belong to a generation that for instance did not experience extreme poverty or instability in their countries. As a result, they lack understanding of a variety of significant global issues such as demographics or challenges regarding large cities.

Moreover, several established powers have in recent times become more inclined towards plurilateralism or bilateralism. This is obviously because they want to retain their powers and keep that advantage of having created as well as established international structures. However, India and Brazil still believe deeply in multilateralism as the fairest system for the conduct of international relations, and are thus working to use plurilaterism to strengthen it. BRICS is a good example of this endeavour.

Different metrics or logic apply to what is perceived as a suitable system of global governance. Those that deal with the UN view things differently than those concerned with the World Bank or IMF. Within the UN, for example, both India and Brazil can seek equal benefits, but this same rule does not apply to their interactions with the financial institutions, where those who have more can do more. 

Brazil and India: Multilateral Collaborations

As a result of their multilateral objective as well as the restrictions imposed by international mechanisms, India and Brazil have successfully collaborated and worked together to create groups that are specific to certain problems. BRICS is an example of this shared vision. Another example is the G20. The G4, which considers the expansion of the UNSC's permanent members, is an important measure of the collaborative work undertaken by countries like ours.

Although it has not merited much discussion of late, IBSA is another very interesting grouping. It is the BRICS of democracies, and countries that have challenges in common that are separate from China and Russia, and this obviously opens many exciting opportunities. An important aspect of IBSA is that China does not direct the agenda, which means India and Brazil can achieve a lot more without being restricted.

BASIC was formulated to advance sustainable development and address climate change issues. In fact, the foundations of the Paris Accord came from BASIC proposals made to the US and the EU. India and Brazil noted the tendency of the most developed states to dilute the importance of the climate change convention, and since both strongly believe in multilateralism, they took up the task of strengthening global climate change negotiations.

Brazil and India: Bilateral Ties

While Brazil and India are strongly committed to multilateralism and plurilateralism,  this strength does not replicate in their bilateral relationship. There is no structure for initiating a strategic partnership in the form of annual presidential visits or foreign ministry meetings.

The reason for this lack of bilateral engagement could be explained by their expansive multilateral experience. Nonetheless, this issue of not having a strong bilateral agenda has been compensated somewhat by the parallel meetings that take place alongside other meetings, such as the BRICS summits or at the UN. The real issue, quite possibly, it the lack of any real problems in the bilateral relationship, which makes other equations more pressing and urgent.

Despite these limitations, India and Brazil are witnessing some positive bilateral developments. They have established bilateral trade relations, although the volume is not significant. They also have growing investments which in recent years has increased considerably. Indian investments in Brazil now amount to US$ 9 billion, and Brazilian investments in India stand at US$ 1 billion. Eeven then, this number demonstrates that much more can be done through capital to enhance engagement between the two countries.

What is the way forward?

Public opinion in Brazil and India should ask their governments to do more.. More Indian opinion-makers can be brought down to Brazil, and vice versa

These exchanges could begin with the exchange of information in the field of technology given the number of start-ups and young peoples' engagement in this sector, particularly agro-tech, in both our countries. The significance of this dimension lies in the fact that both Brazil and India have very similar circumstances, especially regarding the challenges of development, poverty of infrastructure, and so on.

In addition, India and Brazil can also work to offer solutions to other countries that suffer from similar problems, given their vast collective experience. Mozambique, Myanmar, Colombia, Venezuela are some such examples.

There is also a need to create a diplomatic structure that provides the mandate to further bilateral ties. This structure will also give enormous flexibility to embassies. This proposal has been put forward to Brazil’s Indian counterparts but unfortunately the work is still pending.

Overall, the bilateral relationship looks promising, with both Brazil and India taking similar positions on important global issues. The only missing component is the involvement of civil society and public opinion, which, in both countries, is very diverse, and can contribute meaningfully to making the relationship truly multidimensional.

Rapporteured by Akanksha Khullar, Researcher, IReS, IPCS