On his way to the first summit of the India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) group and the NAM summit, being billed as a major foreign policy event, the Prime Minister cannot quite escape the pull of domestic events. Primarily, the recent terrorist strikes in Maharashtra and the larger issue of dealing with Pakistan.
Aboard the special aircraft, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made his first public comment on the Malegaon blasts. He called them a "shame", but acknowledged, "We have not been able to get to the bottom of it."
As for the meeting with Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf on the sidelines of the NAM summit in Havana, Singh said "hopefully" there would be one. Singh dismissed in the same vein BJP President Rajnath Singh's demand not to meet with Musharraf till the terrorist camps continued to function in Pakistan, saying "we will cross the bridge when we come to it."
Officials accompanying the Prime Minister do not want to decry the NAM publicly and annoy the Left. But privately they say the IBSA meeting in Brasilia is a foil of sorts for the larger, ceremonial event in Havana. There is genuine enthusiasm for the IBSA summit, which is seen as a contemporary version of the NAM, which has become diffuse with as many as 115 countries.
The tighter IBSA grouping of multi-lingual, and multi-ethnic democracies is sharply focused on the reform in the UN Security Council and negotiations in the WTO with developed countries. The texture of the Brasilia summit is also visible from the large delegation of the CCII, FICCI and the Assocham, who begin what is being billed as the 1st Business Summit from Tuesday.
One of the important issues is the way the three countries can create a preferential trading framework without violating other commitments - Brazil to the Mercosur group, South Africa to the South Africa Customs Union and India to the SAARC. With trade flows between the three totaling just $5 billion, India is seeking enhanced access for its IT, pharmaceuticals and auto industry in the entire Mercosur area, which includes Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. India signed a framework agreement with the organization in 2003 and has seen considerable progress in duty reductions for its products since.
The second issue is cracking the Doha Round of the WTO. Brazil, already an agricultural super-power, and India with the potential of being one, are seeking liberalization of agricultural imports by developed countries.
The prime minister has also emphasised energy security. South Africa is famous for its technology in converting coal into petroleum and Brazil is a world leader in using alcohol for fuel. ONGC's Videsh has paid $410 million for a 15 per cent stake in an offshore block in South-East Brazil.