Brazil–India Relations

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BRAZIL–INDIA RELATIONS The relations between Brazil and India as sovereign countries began in 1948, just a few months after India gained independence in 1947. The historical platform on which the new political dialogue was to be staged was by no means devoid of earlier inscriptions. From the fifteenth century onward, European overseas expansion was instrumental in generating symbolic and real connections between the regions. From the "discovery" of the Americas as "Indias" to the direct exchanges that took place from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries between Brazil and the present-day Indian state of Goa, the colonial period was responsible for bringing into the formative melting pot of Brazilian people (Europeans, Africans, and Amerindians) a South Asian component. The independence of Brazil in 1822, and the neocolonial compulsions that followed, led to a decrease in communication with Asia. Indirect exchanges, however, continued to take place through studies of Indian philosophy and politics, and through the influence of leading Indian figures, especially Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi.

The dialogue between Brazil and India as sovereign countries was initiated after World War II, when Brazil and India emerged as giant nation-states, both in terms of territory and population—respectively, the world's fifth and seventh largest territories and the world's fifth and second most populous countries. The new nations shared commonalities: similar processes of postcolonial nation building, a multicultural society, and a predominantly tropical geography with vast natural resources; both had also adopted a federal system to accommodate their democratic ideals. The 1940s signaled the beginning in both countries of aggressive state-led processes of industrialization, which sought to reverse colonial and neocolonial poverty and dependency. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in India and President Getúlio Vargas in Brazil played decisive roles in nation building, both projecting a vision of a society committed to eliminating the causes of underdevelopment and seeking to ensure social inclusion. Thus, despite gaps in cultural genealogy and political independence—Brazil, a young civilization, born politically in 1822, and India, an ancient civilization, born politically in 1947—the concomitance of their industrialization laid the ground for a dialogue on the challenges posed by their similar models of economic development.

The First Stage: Multilateral Dialogue, Cold War Predicaments

One could roughly divide the history of sovereign relations between Brazil and India into two periods: from 1947 until the 1980s, and from the 1990s onward. The first period was dominated by a set of ambivalent forces. On the one hand, the need to effectively challenge an international system hostile to peripheral or "southern" industrialization brought emphasis to the so-called south-south dialogue. On the other hand, dependency on the "north" for transference of technology and financial assets, and the inward character of the developmental model, based on import-substitution, did not, at least in the initial stages, augur significant commercial and technological exchanges among southern nations. Perhaps more important, the dominant geopolitical scenario of the cold war threw Brazil and India into opposite camps: Brazil in the U.S. bloc, and India in the Soviet bloc. Nevertheless, a look at India's major role in the nonaligned movement and at Brazil's independent foreign policy adopted from 1961 onward clearly suggests that convenience and compulsion, rather than ideological affiliation, informed their respective interlocutions with the superpowers.

Thus, the first period of India–Brazil relations was essentially characterized by efforts at joining multilateral organizations, such as the G-77 (The Group of 77 at the United Nations), UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development), and GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade), whereby the two giant nations provided leadership to developing and underdeveloped countries in their common struggle to bring fairness to trade and economic relations with the rich "north." From the 1970s onward, when environmental and nuclear issues became prominent in international affairs, Brazil and India worked closely to prevent international interference in their forest and biodiversity assets and to defend their right to pursue their own nuclear and space programs. Their timid steps in bilateral relations included the signing of general framework agreements on commerce (1968), culture (1968), nuclear energy (1968), science and technology (1985), and the prevention of double taxation (1988), with minimal impact on trade. There was one visit by Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi to Brazil in 1968.

The India-Brazil cultural dialogue did not expand much beyond the previous parameters, with "mysticism" and "poverty" continuing to dominate Brazilian perceptions of India, while "carnival" and "football" dominated Indian ideas of Brazil. Some intellectual exchanges on contemporary matters began, however, in the 1960s and 1970s. They included: the impact on India of Brazilian studies on "dependent development" by Celso Furtado, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, and Theotônio dos Santos; the influence of Jawaharlal Nehru's principles of international relations on Brazil's conceptualization of an independent foreign policy in the 1960s; and the creation of the first department of Sanskrit in Latin America at the University of São Paulo in 1968.

The Second Stage: Strategic Partnership and Globalization

The transformations that engulfed the world and, particularly, South America and South Asia, after 1990 functioned as a wake-up call to both political leaders and civil society. A new phase of sovereign relations between Brazil and India had begun, within an international arena freed from the dichotomies of the cold war and marked by the intensification of the process of globalization, which compelled developing countries to adopt more liberal economic postures. The vast state bureaucratic machinery earlier put in place in both countries had not only generated mismanagement and corruption but had also achieved very limited results in terms of poverty alleviation and the reduction of inequality. The processes of economic liberalization in India and Brazil, which started practically at the same time in 1991, combine policies suited to an increasingly integrated global economy with the mobilization of civil society, calling for good governance and decentralization. In Brazil, the political changes led to the re-democratization of the country after over twenty years of military dictatorship. After over half a century of industrialization and the development of human, scientific, and technological resources in space, nuclear, chemical, and genetic fields, by 2003 the gross domestic products of India and Brazil ranked fourth and ninth in the world, respectively.

India–Brazil relations since 1990 have been marked by the exponential growth of bilateral relations, which augurs well for the formation of what Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva described as a "strategic partnership." Figures of bilateral trade show that in a span of just six years (1997–2003) the total trade between the two countries increased by over 300 percent. In 2003 that total reached U.S.$1.04 billion and, according to Brazil's minister of industry and trade, Luiz Fernando Furlan, had the potential to grow fivefold in the next five years. India exports diesel oil, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, engineering goods, and textiles to Brazil, which sends crude oil, soya, and iron ore to India. Aircraft, footwear, furniture, and food items are potential future markets for export by Brazil. The establishment of an Indo-Brazilian Commercial Council in 1998 has enabled both governments as well as private investors to coordinate efforts to develop bilateral trade.

Favored by agreements on nuclear energy (1996), phyto-sanitary measures (1997), health and medicine (1998), information and technology (2000), blending of ethanol (2002), biotechnology (2002), and space research (2003), capital investment and transfer of technology in Brazil have made immense progress. Several Indian private corporations in the pharmaceutical, software, and engineering sectors have established joint ventures with local counterparts in Brazil. Similarly, Brazilian companies are operating in partnership with electronic and alcohol distillery sectors in India. A government program to blend ethanol with gasoline in Brazil has proved successful. Technological collaboration is also being explored in the areas of satellite construction, climate, marine sciences, biotechnology, e-banking, and e-governance.

The current phase of India-Brazil friendship and cooperation began in 1992 with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding for Consultations of Mutual Interest by both governments. That was followed by the first official visit of Brazil's head of state in 1996, when President Fernando Henrique Cardoso met with Indian leaders, and both parties vowed to give high priority to their bilateral relations. In 1998 Indian president K. R. Narayanan made an official visit to Brazil. In 2004, Brazil's newly elected president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, traveled to India to sign a number of important trade agreements. Reflecting the new bilateral dynamics, those agreements helped to consolidate concerted action at multilateral World Trade Organization meetings, where India and Brazil supported joint initiatives to promote the interests of developing countries and to resist indirect forms of protectionism in the spheres of trade, intellectual property, and public health. An aggressive campaign to democratize the Security Council of the United Nations and persuade world leaders of their legitimate claims to permanent seats prompted Brazil and India in 2004 to constitute, along with two other candidates (Germany and Japan), a core group aiming at reform of the Security Council. Equally significant were two other initiatives of "south-south" cooperation. The first was the creation in 2003 of G-3 (The Group of 3) or IBSA (The India, Brazil, South Africa Dialogue Forum), a forum to promote dialogue between three of the major developing economies (Brazil, India, and South Africa) to enhance trilateral cooperation across three continents. The second was the signing in 2004 of a framework agreement on trade between India and all partners of the Mercosur (Common Market of the South; Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay), which sets the principles for the adoption of preferential tariffs among the parties.

The World Summit on Environment met in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, and the World Social Forum met in Mumbai in 2004, with nongovernmental organizations from both India and Brazil developing fruitful exchanges at both conferences, confronting common problems of environmental degradation, the rights of indigenous peoples, land conflicts, and urban issues. Similarly, their academic and intellectual dialogues have grown with the creation and consolidation of several institutional mechanisms of cooperation. In India, the Latin American Department and the Center for Spanish and Portuguese Studies were established at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, and endowed chairs of Brazilian Studies were created by the Ministry of External Affairs of Brazil at Jawaharlal Nehru University and at Goa University. In Brazil, their academic counterparts are the Center for Afro-Asian Studies at Cândido Mendes University in Rio de Janeiro, the Center for Asian Studies at Brasília University, and the Center for Afro-Asian Studies at Londrina State University. In 2001 the first bilateral interuniversity agreement was signed between Goa University and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

The enlargement of mutual perceptions beyond inherited stereotypes has also been boosted by major cultural initiatives, including film festivals, book publications, and exhibitions of dance, music, and photography. Finally, the recently signed India-Brazil Cultural Exchange Program (2004) and the Agreement on Tourism (2004) both have the potential to accelerate bilateral cultural exchanges and to further consolidate the immense gains made since 1990 in what is destined to be a vibrant and geopolitically crucial partnership.

Dilip Loundo

See alsoEconomic Reforms of 1991


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