Intreview: Anand Sharma
To what extent can members of IBSA and BRICS improve coordination on global trade issues?
ANAND SHARMA: Under IBSA, India, Brazil and South Africa have long consulted one another on matters of social and economic development, poverty alleviation, global commerce, and geo-political developments. These consultations help us formulate and articulate common positions that reflect not only our shared interests, but also the interests of the developing world in general. The emergence of BRICS has not only widened the scope of consultations, but also introduced fresh insights and perspectives into the dialogue process. Despite the diversity of our peoples, cultures, economies and politics, BRICS members have been able to mould themselves into a cohesive group working towards the shared objective of a more equitable world.
What will be the benefits of further financial integration among BRICS countries?
SHARMA: I have no doubt initiatives such as a BRICS Development Bank, pooled risk reinsurance and a joint stock exchange index can benefit and reinforce intra-BRICS trade and investment. There is also a need for multilateral financial institutions sensitive to the requirements of developing countries. However, the details of these would have to be carefully devised so that benefits accrue equitably to all participants. Given the sophistication of its financial markets, South Africa is well positioned for a leading role in the execution of these initiatives.
What are the prospects for a preferential trade agreement (PTA) between India and the Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU)?
SHARMA: The SACU and India are currently negotiating a PTA. I am optimistic that the negotiations will gain momentum and proceed towards an early conclusion. The PTA is expected to boost trade as India views SACU to be a good market for its automobiles and pharmaceuticals. SACU members are richly endowed with natural resources, and India could become a major destination for these products once the tariff regime becomes operational. The economies of India and SACU members are at different stages of development. However, I do not see this as a hurdle to negotiating a PTA, but rather as s challenge to be confronted and surmounted to achieve a mutually beneficial agreement that addresses the concerns of all members, especially the less developed ones.
To what extent can parallels be drawn between the experiences of India and South Africa?
SHARMA: I believe that India and South Africa have much to learn from each other. India’s greatest success story is the entrepreneurial initiative that developed its IT sector into an industry capable of competing with the best in the world. Market-oriented reforms and the deregulation and liberalisation of telecommunications have also prompted rapid growth for the sector.
In terms of rural development, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act ( MGNREGA) was introduced in stages from February 2006, guaranteeing 100-days paid employment in a financial year at a minimum prescribed wage to all adult members of a rural household. MGNREGA focused on creating tangible assets, including water conservation and harvesting, drought proofing, irrigation projects, flood control and rural road connectivity. Assured employment and enhanced wage earning have led to improved living standards in rural areas, and there has been a fall in labour migration during lean periods.
To promote transparency in administration, the Right to Information Act was enacted in October 2005. This law empowers Indian citizens to seek information from a public authority within a fixed period, making the government more accountable. The act has been in operation for over three years and has empowered the common man, including the poor and the underprivileged. These are just some of the successful experiences India could share with other developing countries.
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