Heads of state and government and high-level representatives of the UN system and international organizations discussed the challenges and potential of both South-South and traditional North-South cooperation during the second High-level UN Conference on South-South Cooperation. Participants warned that enhanced cooperation is needed to tackle threats as climate change, growing energy demands, and widening gaps between the rich and poor around the globe.
The Conference, which marked the 40th anniversary of the Buenos Aires Plan of Action for Promoting and Implementing Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries (BAPA+40), took place from 20-22 March 2019, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. On the last day, governments adopted the Buenos Aires outcome document, which was negotiated by UN Member States between November 2018 to March 2019.
Opening the Conference, Mauricio Macri, President of Argentina, highlighted that the many complex, interlinked challenges facing the international community today require “even stronger partnerships.” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said enhanced cooperation can help developing countries learn from each other and grow more rapidly, while also closing income gaps and building inclusive and resilient societies.
Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces, President of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), said the countries of the South have a more decisive role to play in the global landscape than they had 40 years ago. She said that “feelings of anxiety” about growing isolationism require a “convincing response” from the multilateral system, demonstrating its capacity to guide countries. Espinosa described South-South Cooperation as representing “the best of nations,” with its principles of solidarity and working for the common good. Mario Abdo Benítez, President of Paraguay, echoed that international relations must be built on “freedom, democracy, and solidarity.”
Inga Rhonda King, President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), said South-South Cooperation is “a key to unlocking the promise of the 2030 Agenda.” She observed that dynamism and innovation in the South-South space are “cutting through business-as-usual politics and policy.”
Achim Steiner, UN Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator and Secretary-General of the Conference, reported that 40 years after the first Buenos Aires conference, intra-South trade levels account for a quarter of global trade, and foreign direct investment (FDI) outflows from developing countries represent one third of all FDI flows.
Adonia Ayebare, President-designate of the High-level Committee on South-South Cooperation, cautioned that, despite rapid progress, many countries, especially the least developed countries (LDCs), still face poverty, malnutrition, unemployment and “serious” deficits in their infrastructure and productive capacities. He urged the UN to intensify support, and called on Member States to support the UN’s Office for South-South Cooperation.
A private sector representative noted that private sector engagement is “the engine for growth” and has been at the center of the development agenda in many international organizations. She stressed the need to support developing countries in strengthening micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs).
A representative of civil society underscored that citizens of the South must cease to be seen as “mere beneficiaries, but as rights holders and key actors of development;” they should be included as key decision makers, planners, implementers, monitors, and evaluators.
In the ensuing discussions, Anthony Liverpool, Antigua and Barbuda, discussed the aftermath of the hurricanes of 2017, which rendered the island of Barbuda uninhabitable. He said that while much of the developed world waited to respond to the country’s immediate needs, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) was the first to respond, which he said illuminates the importance of South-South Cooperation.
Jerome Xavier Walcott, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Barbados, noted that recent changes in the development assistance landscape have not generally benefitted developing countries. He urged countries of the South to exert their bargaining power in multilateral negotiations, adding that “in this challenging environment, it is all the more vital that we leverage our strength as a group to ensure that our voice is heard.”
Noting that China’s trade with and investment in developing countries totaled USD1.77 trillion and USD29.1 billion, respectively, in 2018, Chunhua Hu, the State Council of China, said “China’s door will open wider, providing more opportunities to other developing countries.”
Miguel Vargas Maldonado, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dominican Republic, observed that the global development arena has changed over the past 40 years to include local governments, parliaments, academia and civil society. José Condungua Antonio Pacheco, Mozambique’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, underlined the importance of triangular cooperation, which represents partnerships between two or more developing countries supported by a developed nation or an international organization.
Jens Frølich Holte, State Secretary of Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said isolationism and protectionism do not promote sustainable development. Cornelia Richter, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), said the significance of South-South Cooperation is reflected in the growing demand for the services of Rome-based UN agencies, which have embedded it as a complement to aid modalities in all their strategies and organizational structures.
Riad Al-Malki, Palestine’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, for the Group of 77 and China (G-77/China), emphasized that South-South Cooperation must be a complement to, and not a substitute for, “traditional” North-South Cooperation. He said South-South collaboration must be driven by countries themselves and not serve as “a way to cope with the receding interest of the developed world.” He added that South-South Cooperation’s particularities must be considered in the context of national capabilities, and cannot be measured in the same way as official development assistance (ODA).
Ruy Pereira, Director, Brazilian Cooperation Agency, emphasized that developing countries have the prerogative to design and validate measurements for South-South Cooperation, “on a voluntary and mutually convenient basis.” Sachin Chaturvedi, Director General, Research and Information System for Developing Countries, said any effort to capture “the unique value” of South-South efforts under one reporting, monitoring and evaluation framework would mean losing its diversity, as its beauty is found “in the many aspects of its existence.” As a “development compact,” he noted, country participation is better gauged through impact assessments, and thus an element of endogeneity needs to be kept in the assessment process.
Saeed Rashed Al Zaabi, United Arab Emirates, (UAE), observed that, although the global North has more experience in providing aid, donors from the South have brought “new thinking and a sense of empathy” to foreign assistance, drawing on their own development experiences to relate to partner countries and preserve the dignity of recipient countries.
During the three-day discussions, participants identified sustainable urbanization, agriculture, climate change mitigation and trade as key areas that require “revitalized partnerships.” Several speakers expressed concern about escalating levels of national debt, and the structural obstacles facing middle-income countries (MICs), small island developing States (SIDS), and other countries in special circumstances. Questions that were highlighted throughout the discussion included: how to ensure inclusive national ownership when private sector actors are involved; how to better measure impact and track results; and how to ensure coherent private sector engagement in projects featuring a mix of partners with different agendas.