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GS Paper 2: Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.


Historical background

India’s relationship with South Africa is both fundamental and unique, dating back several centuries and is anchored in common ideals, ideas, interests, and icons – like Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. However, their bilateral relationship remained strained for a long time due to South Africa’s apartheid government. Following its independence, India intensified its struggle at multilateral organisations like United Nations (UN), Commonwealth, and Non Aligned Movement (NAM), and was the first country to severe trade relations in 1946, and subsequently imposed political and economic sanctions.

After a gap of four decades, India re-established trade and business ties in 1993, after South Africa ended its institutionalised racial segregation. In May 1993, a Cultural Center was opened in Johannesburg. In November 1993, diplomatic and consular relations were restored during the visit of then South African Foreign Minister Pik Botha to India. The Indian High Commission in Pretoria was opened in May 1994. In 1996, India opened its permanent Office of High Commission in Cape Town, which was re-designated as Consulate General of India in 2011.


Rekindled ties

India and South Africa’s shared common experiences and collective strength have shaped how they both view the world together. As two nations who have shared their struggle to freedom, the responsibility to improve the lives of others is embedded within India and South Africa’s consciousness. After South Africa achieved democracy in 1994, it was the Red Fort Declaration on Strategic Partnership between India and South Africa, signed in March 1997 by then PM Shri Deve Gowda and Nelson Mandela, which set the parameters for a rekindled relationship.

The 20th anniversary of signing of the declaration was commemorated by an India-South African cultural extravaganza comprising of music and dance performances, and an event organised by High Commission of India, Pretoria on April 9, 2017. This Strategic Partnership between the two countries was again re-affirmed in the Tshwane Declaration (October 2006). Both these declarations have been instrumental mechanisms that has contributed in the past to both South Africa and India for achieving their respective national objectives.

Bilateral trade and investments

India is South Africa’s fifth-largest export destination, and fourth-largest import origin and is the second-largest trading partner in Asia. Both countries are working to boost trade volumes in the coming years. Bilateral trade between India and South Africa currently stands at $10 billion. In 2016, both countries set a target of doubling bilateral trade and investment to $20 billion by 2021.

A recent joint study by Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) and Price Waterhouse Cooper (PwC) published in May, 2018, suggested that around 140 Indian companies have invested close to $4 billion in South Africa, thereby creating direct employment for over 18,000 people. The leading Indian companies are Wipro, Coal India, Cipla, HCL Technologies, Tata Motors, Zomato, Mahindra and Mahindra, Vedanta, and Motherson Sumi. South African companies which have invested in India are SASOL, FirstRand, Old Mutual, ACSA, Shoprite and Nandos.


Indian diaspora in Africa

South Africa is home to the highest number of Indian Diaspora in the African continent, with a total strength of 1,218,000 thereby constituting 3 percent of South Africa’s total population. Since 2003 onwards, India celebrates Pravasi Bhartiya Divas (PBD) each year on 9th January (the day Mahatma Gandhi returned from South Africa to India).



  • BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) – In 2010, the formerly known grouping of BRIC, became BRICS with the induction of South Africa. The BRICS Forum’s valuable contribution in reforming the global financial and economic architecture is well-appreciated by both India and South Africa. Both India and South Africa remains committed to work together to enhance intra-BRICS trade, investment, and financial cooperation.
  • IBSA (India, Brazil, and South Africa) – Established in 2003, the IBSA Dialogue Forum brings together three large democracies and major economies from three different continent’s facing similar developmental challenges, and represents three developing, pluralistic, multicultural, multiethnic, multilingual, and multi-religious nations. India and South Africa appreciates the work carried out by the IBSA Facility for Poverty and Hunger Alleviation (IBSA Fund), established in March 2004, and became operational in 2006, in sharing experiences, expertise, and capacities with developing countries in a South-South Cooperation framework.
  • G20 – Both India and South Africa recognises G20 as the premier forum for coordination in international financial and economic matters, and calls upon the world-community to utilise monetary, fiscal, and structural reforms to jump-start the global economy. During his meeting with former President Zuma in 2016, PM Modi agreed on India’s continued support for the South African proposals on the illicit financial flows, the Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) and for the industrialization of Africa and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) as well as the G20 Action Plan on the implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.
  • World Trade Organisation (WTO) – India and South Africa supports WTO as the sole-multilateral mechanism on global trade, commerce, and in the centrality accorded to the development-agenda in the Doha Development Round. On July 12, 2018, India and South Africa made a joint proposal at the WTO, which said “the realities prevailing in the 1998, when WTO members agreed for the first time to the temporary moratorium on customs duties on electronic transmissions, have changed significantly during the subsequent two decades.” Their main contention is that the present moratorium can lead to loss of competitiveness among developing countries, since they have higher tariffs on physical products, while the same product in digital form attracts zero duty. This joint India-South Africa report took due note of attempts by the developed world to make commitments more comprehensive and stringent through negotiations on regional trade agreements and multilateral agreements.
  • ITEC / ICCR scholarships -  The ITEC programme has contributed to improving skills and enhancing knowledge of nearly 1000 South African nationals since 1993-94, in areas such as Rural Development, Agriculture, Information and Communication Technology, Poverty Alleviation, Mass Communication, Journalism, Entrepreneurship and other multi-skill development training aimed at increasing competiveness in the job market.  


Previous Year Questions

  1. What do you understand by ‘The String of Pearls’? How does it impact India? Briefly outline the steps taken by India to counter this. (2013)
  2. Economic ties between India and Japan while growing in the recent years are still far below their potential. Elucidate the policy constraints which are inhibiting this growth. (2013)
  3. The protests in Shahbag Square in Dhaka in Bangladesh reveal a fundamental split in society between the nationalists and Islamic forces. What is its significance for India? (2013)
  4. Discuss the political developments in Maldives in the last two years. Should they be of any cause of concern to India? (2013)
  5. In respect of India-Sri Lanka relations, discuss how domestic factors influence foreign policy. (2013)
  6. With respect to the South China sea, maritime territorial disputes and rising tension affirm the need for safeguarding maritime security to ensure freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region. In this context, discuss the bilateral issues between India and China. (2014)
  7. Increasing interest of India in Africa has its pro and cons. Critically Examine. (2015)
  8. Evaluate the economic and strategic dimensions of India’s Look East Policy in the context of the post Cold War international scenario. (2016)
  9. Indian Diaspora has an important role to play in south-East Asian countries’ economy and society. Appraise the role of Indian Diaspora in South-East Asia in this context.      (2017)
  10. ‘What introduces friction into the ties between India and the United States is that Washington is still unable to find for India a position in its global strategy, which would satisfy India's national self-esteem and ambitions.’ Explain with suitable examples. (2019)