The Vast Untapped Potential Of India-Brazil Relations

The Vast Untapped Potential Of India-Brazil RelationsBrazilian President Michel Temer (L) with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Twitter/PIB_India)
  • Brazil and India are natural partners and can together take on some of the pressing challenges facing the world today.

    The two countries should tap into the many ways in which they are alike and intensify their cooperation both at people-to-people and intergovernmental levels.

“Isn’t cricket that bug with long feet?” a Brazilian like Diego would ask Bibhu, who, like anyone else from the cricket-crazy nation, would be surprised by such a statement.

Bibhu would reciprocate with amusement when he’d realise that Brazil has won five FIFA world cups while India has not played even one. This illustrates how much Brazilians and Indians know about each other’s countries and culture.

Nevertheless, we shared fundamental similarities and got along well after our first meeting. After all, only a sport-obsessed nation (India, with cricket) can understand the feelings of another (Brazil, with football).

Unfortunately, Brazilian and Indian societies lack intercultural exchange programmes and thus, the sharing of knowledge. So awkward situations like these arise: “… so, are you telling me that Rio is not the capital of Brazil?” or “I have always wondered where Old Delhi is.” People-to-people connect through student exchange programmes and tourism can help avoid such situations. Sadly, tourist and student flows between Brazil and India are negligible.

Migration plays a pivotal role in bridging different cultures. Because nearly 140,000 Japanese and 130,000 Germans migrated to Brazil in early twentieth century, there are strong social ties between these countries and Brazil. Colonial occupation of India by the British during that time eliminated that possibility. The Indian community in Brazil recently reached over 9,000 people, but the influx is negligible. Similarly, only 40 Brazilian families made India their home, mostly in Goa, which shares with Brazil a history of Portuguese colonisation. In contrast, there are more Indians in Guyana and more Brazilians in Bangladesh.

If Brazil had received more Indian migrants, there would have been numerous Indian restaurants in Brazil. Culinary cultural exchange is an important aspect of intercultural understanding. The Indian cuisine lends itself perfectly to the Brazilian taste, but there are only a few authentic Indian restaurants in Brazil, and those which exist make a dent in one’s pockets. Similarly, Brazilian cuisine remains widely unknown in India. When German Chancellor Fellows (GCFs) celebrated a Brazilian cultural night in Bonn, Indians not only loved the delicious Brazilian cuisine but also noticed its close resemblance to Indian cuisine. Brazil’s national dish comprises rice, beans, and salad. Most people prefer eating it with chicken or beef, but vegetarians eat it with soybeans. Likewise, rice with pulses is the staple diet of Indians.

During this cultural event, Brazilians played many songs, e.g., The Ketchup Song (Asareje) and Indians couldn’t control their feet on these peppy numbers. Both the Brazilians and Indians are lovers of dance, music, and films. All GCFs including Americans, Chinese, and Russians witnessed Brazilian and Indian dance moves.

Indian films attract audiences in Brazilian film festivals. Both Brazil and India have robust and innovative music and film industries, and we can see some syncretism at work, as producers and artists develop mutual admiration. Brazilian-origin actresses Nathalia Kaur and Bruna Abdullah are contributing in Bollywood. Samba, hugely popular Brazilian dance and music, is an integral part of the Goa film festival. The Emmy-winning Brazilian soap opera Caminho das Indias (India: A Love Story) reached an audience of nearly 40 million per episode, combining Brazilian and Indian aesthetics while showing contrasts and similarities between both the nations.

In 2011, in Sao Paulo, the Indian government established the Indian Cultural Center, which hosts performances and classes of classical Indian music and dance, yoga, gastronomy, and the occasional Indian movie.

Furthermore, Brazil and India can also collaborate to promote sports. Brazil has great resources and players, some of whom can train young Indian soccer aspirants. Correspondingly, India can offer its cricket expertise to Brazil.

The results of favourable conditions for a closely-knit socioeconomic integration are yet to make a mark. The volume of trade between both the countries is far from satisfactory. In 2016, Brazil absorbed just 0.9 per cent of Indian exports and stood thirty-first in the list of the most relevant markets for India. India bought 1.7 per cent of Brazilian exports and was the eleventh-largest market for Brazil. Such trends seem to prove that the existing trade agreements, namely Mercosur-India and Global System of Trade and Preferences among developing countries, have not been sufficient to encourage bilateral trade.

Brazil invests in urban transport, information technology, footwear, infrastructure, energy, and healthcare materials in India, while India invests in oil, renewable energy, mining, engineering, automotive services, information technology, and pharmaceuticals in Brazil. However, the data on bilateral investments is not encouraging. The Brazilian stock of direct investment in India was $100 million in 2016 while the Indian investment in Brazil was $4 million. Also, industrial production chains are not integrated. For example, Brazil and India are both exporters of aircraft and related equipment, but of the $4.8 billion Brazilian exports, equipment worth just a few thousand dollars is sold to India. Conversely, of the $3 billion Indian exports, only 0.23 per cent share is sold to Brazil.

At the academic level, Brazilian and Indian universities have displayed increasing interest in bilateral affairs. This means more and more students and scholars share knowledge and participate in research networks and academic conferences. Currently, Goa University hosts a Brazilian chair for Latin American studies and offers a variety of courses like Brazilian literature, philosophy, and sociology. Analogously, many Brazilian universities have now started offering courses on India.

At the governmental level, the India-Brazil Joint Commission, created in 2003, was an inflection point, as both countries agreed to advance cooperation in almost all ministerial agendas. The Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Brazil in 2015 followed by the Brazilian President’s visit to India in 2016 further strengthened bilateral ties, and both the countries agreed to strengthen strategic, commerce, and civilian partnership.

Defence cooperation between the two is being strengthened with joint military exercises, army personnel training, and research and development in arms. Brazil and India have been discussing further cooperation in aerospace, radar technologies, and construction of submarines and aircraft carriers. Under the ambit of IBSA (India, Brazil, and South Africa Dialogue Forum), they participate in IBSAMAR naval exercises. Brazil and India also promote south-south cooperation through IBSA and funded a project of waste management in Haiti. The initiative was praised by the United Nations (UN).

Brazil and India are on the same page on international issues such as global warming, UN reform, and trade negotiations at World Trade Organization (WTO). Brazil and India bonded with Germany and Japan to form a group called “G4” to support each other’s bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. Since 2003, Brazil and India are holding hands while negotiating with the developed countries at the WTO on agricultural trade negotiations.

With regards to global environmental issues, Brazil and India formed an alliance with China and South Africa, known as BASIC in 2009. The four newly industrialised nations committed to act jointly at the Copenhagen Climate Summit and decided that “no agreement regarding climate change shall leave these countries aside”.

Those four countries (BASIC) and Russia formed BRICS (in 2010), a political coalition that accounts for 40 per cent of the world’s population, 25 per cent of the land, and 22 per cent of the global gross domestic product (as per 2015 data). Most importantly, as it represents countries with the highest growth potential, it also addresses a number of global issues from the perspective of emerging countries.

Brazil and India share common ideals and values like democracy, multiculturalism, diversity, international peace, and sustainable development, which make them natural partners. Brazilians and Indians are substantially connected at the government level, but there exists significant potential for cooperation at the business and citizen levels. In bilateral relations, business-to-business (B2B) and ‘P2P’ connect plays a strong role and sets a fertile ground for strong and sustainable partnership between countries. The P2P connect can be enhanced through more student exchange programmes and promotion of tourism and cultural exchange (food, movies, music, and art). Likewise, B2B connect should encourage more private investment flows, exchange of young talent, and furthering mutual economic growth. Together, Brazil and India can be a strong force in solving some of the most pressing challenges before the world.

Bibhu Mishra is a German Chancellor Fellow, at the Institute of Asian and African Studies, Humboldt University of Berlin (Germany).

Dr Diego Trindade d’Ávila Magalhães is a visiting scholar at the Institute of Asian and African Studies, Humboldt University of Berlin (Germany). He is also a professor of international relations at the Federal University of Goias (Brazil).

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