Short History of South-South Cooperation

south south cooperation

The United Nations General Assembly has chosen 12 September to celebrate South-South Cooperation (SSC), the date on which the United Nations Conference adopted the “Buenos Aires Plan of Action for Promoting and Implementing Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries”. This year, the UN Day for SSC also coincided with the Global South-South Development Expo (GSSD-Expo), an annual event organized by the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC), which took place in Bangkok, Thailand from 12 to 14 September.

Global south south development expo 2022

What is South-South Cooperation and how does it differ from North-South Cooperation?

South-South cooperation is a broad framework of collaboration among countries of the South in the political, economic, social, cultural, environmental and technical domains. Involving two or more developing countries, it can take place on a bilateral, regional, intraregional or interregional basis.

In particular, The United Nation defined South-South Cooperation (SSC) as:

“A process in which two or more developing countries pursue their shared individual and/or national capacity-building objectives through the exchange of knowledge, skills, resources and technical know-how and through regional and interregional collective actions, including partnerships involving governments, regional organizations, civil society, academia and the private sector, for their individual and/or mutual benefit within and between regions” .

SSC develops as a response to the limits of traditional North-South Cooperation of a hierarchical and welfarist matrix, based on the economic aid granted by the countries of the North to the developing countries and closely linked to the political and commercial interests of the donors themselves. For this reason, SSC can be defined as a complement to and not a substitute of the traditional North-South Cooperation which implies a partnership between equals, mutual sharing and exchange of key solutions for development between the countries of the South of the world.

The historical roots of South-South cooperation and its evolution

The origins of SSC can be traced to the Asian-African Conference also known as the Bandung Conference that took place in Bandung, Indonesia, in 1955. This conference was sponsored by India, Pakistan, Ceylon, Burma and Indonesia and was attended by the following 29 independent countries:Afghanistan, Burma, Cambodia, Ceylon, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gold Coast, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Jordan, Laos, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Sudan, Thailand, Turkey, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, State of Vietnam and the Kingdom of Yemen.

The aim of this conference was to promote the process of decolonization and consolidate the front of the former dependent countries,encouraging economic and political cooperation in the framework of peaceful coexistence.

Delegates at the Bandung Conference in 1955
Delegates at the Bandung Conference in 1955

In the final document adopted during the Conference were set out ten points, passed down in history as the «Ten principles of Bandung», the most important of which were those of non-interference, self-determination, respect for the independence of peoples and the sovereignty of countries and neutralism.

These principles would inspire The Non-Aligned Movement formally established by the Belgrade Conference in 1961.This conference was attended, along with Yugoslavia, by 24 countries from Asia, Africa and Latin America and was orchestrated by three key figures: Josip Broz Tito, the president of Yugoslavia, Gamal Abdel Nasser, the president of Egypt, and Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India.

In this conference, in addition to rejecting the logic of the two opposing blocs, the participants proposed to give impetus to the process of decolonization and the improvement of the economic conditions of the Third World.

A special role in the evolution of SSC was played later by the two United Nations Conferences on Trade and Development called UNCTAD I, held in Geneva in 1964 and UNCTAD II, held in New Delhi in 1968. The aim of these conferences was to promote the integration of developing countries into the world economy and promote a trade policy more favorable to the least developed countries.

In this context was created the Group of 77 or G-77 with the aim to coordinate the emerging countries in their participation in the works of the United Nations.

The Group of 77 during the meeting in Geneva in 1964
The Group of 77 during the meeting in Geneva in 1964

During the 1970s the SSC was strengthened by two events: the creation in 1978 of the Special Unit for South–South Cooperation (SUSSC) by the United Nations and the adoption in the same year of the “Buenos Aires Plan of Action for Promoting and Implementing Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries (BAPA)” .

The BAPA established for the first time a framework for this type of cooperation and incorporated in its practice the basic principles of relations between sovereign States: respect for sovereignty, non-interference in internal affairs and equality of rights, among others.

The BAPA defined as well a series of new and concrete recommendations aimed at establishing legal frameworks and financing mechanisms at the national, regional, interregional and global levels.

In 1994, at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), ten developing countries from Asia, Africa and Latin America formed an intergovernmental alliance and created the Partners in Population and Development (PPD), with the aim of expanding and improving SSC in the fields of reproductive health, population, and development.

However, the idea of SSC only started to influence the field of development in the late 1990s. In these years the limitations of the neoliberal development paradigm are highlighted: economic growth had occurred without real redistribution of resources and had rarely been accompanied by an improvement in the quality of life.

In 1996 was established the United Nations Fund for South-South Cooperation (UNFSSC)to promote, support and implement SSC. It constitutes a core element of the United Nations system of support to Member States in their strategy to engage partners and mobilize resources for the joint implementation of innovative and transformative SSC activities.

In this context, the indian economist Amartya Sen in “Development as Freedom” (1999) focused the attention to the issues of distribution and inequality and revolutionized the concept of development as a process of expansion of human freedoms that requires the progressive removal of major sources of illiteracy, such as poverty, tyranny, limited economic opportunities, social deprivation, lack of public facilities, intolerance or repression governmental.

In 2005, in Qatar, during the Second South Summit, at the initiative of the G-77, was approved the “Doha Action Plan” where the SSC is indicated as a tool for poverty eradication and sustainable development. This document also indicated a series of proposals for bilateral and multilateral cooperation projects from Asian and Latin American countries.

The importance of SSC was sustained later in the “Accra Agenda For Action” of 2008 designed to strengthen and deepen implementation of the “Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness” adopted in 2005 and in the “Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation” of 2011.

In recent years the issue of SSC was repeatedly addressed in the “Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development”, which presents 17 sustainable development goals (SDG) and 169 targets to be achieved by 2030.

Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development

Today, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic recovery, South-South and Triangular Cooperation are contributing to sustainable development and a resilient recovery. As the new Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) for the period 2022-2031 will fall within the remaining Decade of Action for SDG implementation, SSC will play an important role in accelerating the full implementation of the Agenda 2030 and the achievement of the development goals and targets of the LDCs.

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