Insights and Analysis

Expert Dialogue on South-South Cooperation at UN in Geneva

July 13, 2016

By Adriano José Timossi

On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Right to Development and to mark the launch of the new book, India’s Approach to Development Cooperation, co-editors Anthea Mulakala, The Asia Foundation’s director for International Development Cooperation, and Sachin Chaturvedi, director general at the Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS), led a panel discussion on June 27 at the United Nations in Geneva. Adriano José Timossi with the South Centre, which co-organized the dialogue, summarized the key takeaways from the panel. Below are excerpts.

In his welcoming remarks, Vicente Paolo Yu, deputy executive director of the South Centre, said that the international outcomes agreed to in 2015 on climate change, sustainable development goals, and the Agenda 2030 on trade, disaster risk reduction, and financing for development are going to be implemented in a world with a much greater level of uncertainty.

Anthea quote

Yu listed the challenges that developing countries face: (1) global economic and financial crises with worldwide impacts; in particular, in their efforts to implement the Right to Development; (2) difficulties in implementing their development strategies ranging from technology access to industrial policy due to impediments arising from international trade regimes; (3) challenges due to climate change and in the implementation of the Paris Agreement, as rules on the implementation of the agreed outcome are yet to be written and negotiated; (4) on the health agenda, new challenges such as those posed by the crisis of antimicrobial resistance; (5) challenges for sustainable development and how we will implement the Agenda 2030 and SDGs, calling for special attention to the concerns of developing countries, particularly the means of implementation which are necessary for the success of the agenda; (6) challenges for multilateralism, with a greater emphasis on a universal agenda having commitments and obligations to be applied for all and greater pressure from developed countries being placed on developing countries to give up on differentiated and preferential treatment which have been longstanding features of international trade and cooperation regimes.

Finally, he called for attention to the rise of more exclusionary economic trade arrangements with the potential emergence of new global norms without the participation of developing countries and the increasing lack in providing assistance to developing countries by donors either through official development assistance or means of implementation.

Ambassador Shyam Saran, former Indian Foreign Secretary and currently Chairman of the Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS), spoke on the drivers of Indian philosophy on development cooperation that differentiate from traditional cooperation, and the lessons to be learned from the Indian case. He pointed out that unlike the ODA/OECD’s or International Financial Institutions (IFIs)’ approach to development cooperation, which is based on a donor-client relationship, Indian development cooperation is seen as more of a partnership. “It is a relationship between equal partners” in which priorities are set by our partners based on their needs and challenges and how India, even with modest resources, could align itself to cooperate, he said. Capacity building has been a strong component, with a transfer of know-how through trainings and education programs put at the center of Indian’s development cooperation for decades.

Ambassador Ajit Kumar of the Permanent Mission of India to the UN in Geneva stressed that two key pillars of Indian development cooperation are partnership for mutual benefit and prosperity and ownership by partners. Indian initiatives aim to provide adequate and affordable technologies. He gave the example of ITEC – Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation –which provides training programs based on the sharing of India’s development experiences and technology with partners with a focus on their own challenges and priorities. Ambassador Kumar stressed that South-South Cooperation is an important component to support efforts to implement the Right to Development. However, it cannot be not be interpreted as a substitute to North-South cooperation based on the historical responsibilities of developed countries to development cooperation.

Moderator Anthea Mulakala said that India has emerged as a key player in development cooperation not only because of the increasing volume and reach of its South-South Cooperation, but more so because of its leadership in development with a distinctly Southern development discourse and knowledge generation. The dialogue, she said, comes at a timely moment with the launch of the new book being a valuable contribution to the literature on South-South Cooperation.

Sachin Chaturvedi highlighted that the development discourse based on growth during the 1960s and ‘70s was enriched with the adoption of the Declaration on the Right to Development in 1986, which put human development at the center stage. He also spoke about the development compact based on five main elements, namely, capacity building, grants, lines of credit, trade, and investment, giving the example of India’s initiative at the WTO Ministerial in Hong Kong in 2005 in which India announced its decision to give Duty-Free Quota-Free (DFQF) for Least Developed Countries. Speaking on the issues arising over the global discourse on North-South and South-South development cooperation, he stressed that OECD terms for development cooperation cannot be simply implemented in South-South Cooperation. He said that convergence will only come if terms are acceptable for both.

Two contributing authors of the book also spoke. Prabodh Saxena, principal secretary to the Government of Himachal Pradesh and former Senior Advisor at the Asian Development Bank, highlighted the importance of Lines of Credit (LOCs) which have played an important role in past decades and which today reach nearly 70 countries. More recently, the EXIM Bank of India started to raise money in the international markets which is contributing to multiplying the portfolio of the LOCs, he said.

Taidong Zhou, manager of the China-UK Partnership Programme on Knowledge for Development at the Development Research Centre of the State Council in China, compared China’s and India’s experiences in development cooperation which in his view have a more complementary rather than competitive role. While India’s focus over the past decades is mainly in capacity building and the region, China has had greater focus on infrastructure and connectivity in the region and in Africa.

Read the full coverage published by South Centre here.

Adriano José Timossi is senior programme officer of the Global Governance for Development Programme (GGDP) at the South Centre. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and not those of The Asia Foundation or its funders.


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