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Q&A: South Is No Longer a Peripheral Actor

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WASHINGTON, Dec 15 2009 (IPS) - There are broad prospects for developing countries to build on complementarities and leverage South-South Cooperation for development, according to Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, Ambassador of Qatar to the U.N.

Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

“The complementarities among the countries of the South provide them with unique opportunities to increase their share of international trade and expand investment possibilities,” Al-Nasser, who serves as the president of the U.N. General Assembly High-Level Committee for South-South Cooperation, said in an interview with IPS.

The sharing of appropriate technologies and experiences among developing countries promotes solidarity among the countries of the South, and at the same time promotes convergence of efforts with donors and partners in the North working toward similar development goals.

“In general, countries tend to share experiences with peers and learn from them when facing similar problems and challenges,” said Kenzo Oshima, senior vice-president of the Japan International Development Agency (JICA), at the high-level segment of the Global South-South Development Expo in Washington, DC, Monday.

The outcome document of the Nairobi High-Level U.N. Conference for South-South Conference, held in Nairobi, Kenya, Dec. 1-3, also stressed that, “proximity of experience is a key catalyst in promoting capacity development in developing countries”.

Excerpts from the interview with Al-Nasser follow:

Q: Why is the South-South Cooperation more important today than it has been in the past? A: The landmark United Nations Conference in Buenos Aires held in 1978 adopted what came to be known as the Buenos Aires Plan of Action (BAPA), which provided a road map and laid the foundation for promoting and implementing technical cooperation among developing countries.

In the past cooperation was limited to an exchange of technical expertise among the countries of the South. Today, the importance of South-South Cooperation has increased, qualifying these countries – especially in light of their economic weight – to play an effective role and became a full partner in the international economic system.

Most importantly is that, with the break-up of the colonial empires a newly self-confident, Global South has emerged.

Many developing countries are now very much in the mainstream of globalisation, and some are more important players in trade and finance than smaller countries of the North. This evolving context – together with the end of the Cold War, newly emergent centres of power and increasing technological innovation – has changed the global landscape, with major, far-reaching implications not only for the South but also for the whole world – both North and the South.

Q: What are the main challenges to South-South Cooperation becoming an even more important engine in promoting social and economic growth? A: The international situation is currently undergoing profound changes. The concept of technical cooperation among developing countries has undergone a process of transformation into South-South Cooperation, subsuming, and further strengthening the dynamics of implementing BAPA, as a response to the need for new directions, especially towards achieving the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s).

South-South trade has expanded and is expanding faster than any other trade flows, but there are still significant tariffs and barriers impeding market access for southern exports. Agricultural subsidies of Northern countries are another factor that negatively affect the exports of developing and least developed countries.

Furthermore, the South has been seeking policy space and an appropriate role in the international financial and economic decision making process – especially following the current international financial and economic crisis.

The delay in the conclusion of the Doha round of World Trade Organisation is a major challenge for the South.

Developing countries also face major challenges in addressing climate change and associated rising sea levels. The way in which current negotiations are conducted does not augur well for a binding agreement that would provide sufficient resources to developing countries, to help them mitigate the effects of climate change and meeting their obligations in this respect.

Other challenges for the South include HIV/AIDS, migration and food crisis.

Q: What are the strategic issues to consider in scaling up South-South Cooperation? Can you give us some specific examples? A: The South is no longer the peripheral actor that it used to be in international policies and economics. It is very much a part of the global mainstream. The growing strength of the South has created capacities for new dynamics for South-South Cooperation. It is, therefore, critical for the South to be at the forefront of the development of ideas and proposals addressing global issues.

While public policy will continue to be critical for the Southern countries, it has become far less dependent on the state for its economic and social advancement. Today, non-state, especially business sector and civil society actors have become central players.

The South must recognise the need to build its own institutional framework – both governmental and non-governmental – to shape future policies, agenda, and strategies.

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