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September 20, 2006

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The 'underdogs' unite at IBSA Forum - By Pratap Thorat

India, Brazil and South Africa came together on September 12 and 13 at Brazilian capital Brasilia to make a new history. They had conceived the idea three years back. It was the first ever summit of their Dialogue Forum. These three nations from three continents, Asia, Latin America and Africa till the other day were described by the advanced West as underdogs. (Don’t forget, now this is a black-ruled, non-racist South Africa.)

The West too is gradually waking up to the new reality of their prowess and potential. There is a greater realisation that India is a giant in the IT and offers the second biggest market to the world. Brazil is the world Ethanol King and admittedly 10 years ahead of even the US in renewable source of energy. South Africa has the coal gasification technology and more importantly it has developed the safe, small-scale, affordable pebble bed nuclear reactors that are ideal for the developing nations. These three countries have come together with a common concern - how to pull up the underdog fast.

For the time being they have resolved to cross the $10 billion mark in mutual trade, share ultra-modern technologies, have more air linkages and tourism. In simpler terms their resolve is to uplift their respective downtrodden masses and erode the poverty further. Brazil’s 40 percent and India’s 30 percent population suffers below the poverty line.

In spite of this, their caps are jammed with feathers. Brazil has not imported even a single drop of petroleum for almost a decade and 42 percent of its vehicles run on 100 percent ethanol and the remaining with the gasohol mix in varying degrees. Brazil is 2.6 times India’s size and has just 180 million people. Even these two factors are enough to make Brazil India’s ideal partner. But there is more. Brazil saved the entire petrol bill and rejuvenated its rural areas in a big way in the past decade. As the oil reserves shrink, the prices are bound to move skywards. Brazil’s huge ethanol potential could be the saviour of fast-growing countries like India. Besides, Brazil is the chair of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group and possesses vast Uranium deposits. Friendship and trade with Brazil will do far too good to India.

India has no option than to depend heavily on its huge coal reserves, for energy needs, in the next few decades and it cannot afford to equal the intimidating pollution levels of China in its quest for rapid growth. On gasification, the conventional coal burns hotter and cleaner and also a zero CO2 emission is possible. South Africa has that technology and India can immensely benefit from it. The pebble bed nuclear reactor, which South African scientists have developed, remains the hope of the developing world and not just India.

Things may work far smoother, when multinationals from developing nations operate in each other’s territories. It is possible that they would be having less arrogance and far less contempt, while serving the locals. You cannot expect that element in the behaviour of the western multinationals of the ilk of Enron or Pepsi-Cola. At least the experience with them was not heartening.


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