South-South Cooperation: Stronger Together


South-South Cooperation: Stronger Together

Эксперты МГИМО: Дегтерев Денис Андреевич, к.экон.н., доцент

South-South Cooperation is a term used to denote assistance that developing countries give to one another. Developing countries are quick to point out, however, that this kind of cooperation is qualitatively different from the traditional paradigm whereby developed countries that are members of the OECD Development Assistance Committee provide assistance to poorer nations. Denis Degteryov, Ph.D. (Economics), Head of Department of the Theory and History of International Relations at Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia and Associate Professor of World Economy at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, talks to us about South-South Cooperation.

— What exactly is South-South Cooperation? Why has the United Nations decided that we need to institutionalize this kind of cooperation?

— Traditional North-South cooperation usually involves large countries providing assistance to their former colonies. This kind of aid is still seen by developing countries as paternalistic and tied to a number of obligations — the so-called principles of «good governance». What’s more, donor countries act as mentors for those nations that are in receipt of aid. The countries of the «Global South» believe that this contradicts the principle of sovereign equality for all member nations (Article 2, Paragraph 1 of the UN Charter).

In an attempt to safeguard themselves against interference from donor countries in their internal political and economic affairs (but at the same time not refusing their help), recipient nations have taken steps to promote the concept of the «right to development» and the assurance of more equitable, preferential terms for developing countries in international trade and other international formats. In May 1974, the 6th Special Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Declaration on the Establishment of a New International Economic Order, in Russian) and a Programme of Action for its implementation. These resolutions played an important role in shaping the regime of international development assistance. Their main provisions were restated in the preamble to the Declaration on the Right to Development in 1986. What’s more, they were instrumental in shaping the format of cooperation between the European Community and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) as part of the Second ACP-EEC Convention of Lomé in 1980–1984.

Moreover, we have been witnessing increased South-South Cooperation between developing countries since the 1970s. Of course, such cooperation existed earlier in the form of the Non-Aligned Movement, the Group of 77 and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Within the context of the UNCTAD, which was established in 1964, the development of international trade is clearly tied to the issue of international aid and the economic situation of the poorest countries. This is in stark contrast to the 1994 version of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which considers the liberalization of international trade as an absolute good.

The first United Nations Conference on Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries was held in Buenos Aires from 30 August to 12 September 1978. The resulting Plan of Action for Promoting and Implementing Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries signed by the conference’s participants included 38 recommendations aimed at achieving self-sufficiency based on mutual cooperation in various fields.

Further development of international legislation in this sphere is reflected in the relevant UN resolution (A/RES/49/96 dated December 19, 1994.), which sets out the new directions for technical cooperation among developing countries in market economy conditions in the context of globalization. The need for developing countries to rely on their own strengths was formalized by the United Nations in 2002 in The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).

— In what spheres is the most intensive interaction taking place? What areas need to be developed?

— South-South Cooperation is marked by the predominance of technical assistance and the transfer of expertise in diverse areas of economic and scientific development. To this end, a number of developing states have established advanced technology centres. Countries of the «Global South» are convinced that only they are capable of truly understanding each other’s needs and that, consequently, only they are in a position to make suggestions as to the best way to satisfy these needs. South-South Cooperation differs from traditional international aid in that assistance provided does not hinge upon the recipient country carrying out economic or political reforms; South-South Cooperation is at its heart a partnership between countries. Of course, the fact that the former colonies’ place in the global division of labour was agriculture initially hampered the development of fully-fledged cooperation.

The first ten years after the adoption of the Buenos Aires Plan of Action were devoted to setting up focal points and developing the procedures for interaction. The next ten years were spent adapting the concept of South-South Cooperation to the conditions of the time. Expansion of trade and investment flows between the countries of the «Global South» began during the following ten years, and supplies of hi-tech goods and services intensified. For example, Brazil became the world leader in ethanol fuel (bioethanol) production technologies.

At the same time, South-South Cooperation is developing in many different formats. Interregional cooperation has intensified between countries in Africa and Latin America, with two summits dedicated to the issue being held: first in Abuja, Nigeria in 2006, which was attended by representatives of 53 African and 12 Latin American countries; then in Venezuela in 2009 at the initiative of Hugo Chávez, where the leaders of 49 African and 12 Latin American states were present. The choice of venues for these summits was no accident, as Nigeria and Venezuela are two of the most active countries in South-South Cooperation. For example, in Nigeria, the Nigeria Technical Cooperation Fund was set up in 2001 under the auspices of the African Development Bank with the aim of developing technology throughout the African continent. The Simón Bolívar Programme, set up at the initiative of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean in 1993, performs a similar function in Latin America. What’s more, Hugo Chávez was a fervent supporter of anti-American integration projects among the «Global South» countries, having a hand in the formation of the «Axis of Good», the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America and other initiatives.

In addition to inter-regional cooperation, the African continent is benefiting from active cooperation with Brazil, China, India and South Africa. It is worth noting that Brazil is primarily developing ties with the Lusophone (Portuguese-speaking) African countries, relying on the «infrastructure of interaction» created by Portugal for cooperating with its former colonies. China is also making use of the «infrastructure of interaction» created by France for cooperation with its former colonies. China-Africa and Brazil-Africa summits are a regular occurrence.

We should also mention the participation of developed countries (Japan, for example) in South-South Cooperation on a tripartite basis. Developed countries contribute a part of their technology and finances as a way of stimulating relations between developing countries.

— Are any organizations besides the United Nations involved in such initiatives?

— The United Nations remains the main platform for realizing such initiatives (the key department here is the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation). In addition to UNCTAD, we should also mention the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), which was set up in 1962 and oversees the exchange of experience and know-how in the implementation of industrial projects.

The Group of 77 acts as a mouthpiece for the «Global South» and is an important initiator of South-South Cooperation. At a meeting in 2003, the Group of 77 adopted the Marrakech Declaration, in which developed countries emphasized once again the need, and indeed absolute necessity, of cooperating with one another in order to move towards self-reliant development.

It is worth noting that American experts are keeping a close eye on the position of the «Global South» countries with regard to South-South Cooperation, including those positions connected with so-called Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL). The first international conference on the matter (TWAIL I) was held at Harvard Law School in 1997. This was followed by TWAIL II, held at Osgoode Hall Law School of York University in Ontario, Canada, in 2001; and TWAIL III, held at Albany Law School in 2007. The most recent International Conference on Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL 2011) was held at the University of Oregon Law School in October 2011. A special issue of the Indian journal Trade, Law and Development dedicated to the topic came out that same year.

— What role does Russia play in promoting this kind of cooperation?

— Russia sees South-South Cooperation as an important element of the global architecture of development assistance, one that supplements traditional forms of aid. The Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON), led by the Soviet Union and China, acted as an alternative source of international assistance from the 1960s to the 1980s. Immediately following the collapse of the socialist economic system, a number of donors became significantly stronger than others, which in many cases was led to subjective decisions being taken about the fate of individual recipients. In the 2000s, with the emergence of new potential donors (the BRICS countries), the architecture of international assistance became multi-faceted once again.

Of course, the potential of Russia’s participation in South-South Cooperation (on a tripartite basis) has not yet been fully realized. We are talking about ambitious new projects in the fields of professional development, natural resource extraction, satellite communications, medicine, nuclear energy, etc.


[1] The definition of «good governance» is set out, in particular, in the Cotonou Agreement signed between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States in 2000 (Article 9, Paragraph 3): «In the context of a political and institutional environment that upholds human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law, good governance is the transparent and accountable management of human, natural, economic and financial resources for the purposes of equitable and sustainable development. It entails clear decision-making procedures at the level of public authorities, transparent and accountable institutions, the primacy of law in the management and distribution of resources and capacity building for elaborating and implementing measures aiming in particular at preventing and combating corruption.»

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Источник: Russian International Affairs Council
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