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Q&A: South Must Harmonise To Take Advantage of Common Interests

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IPS interviews EDWARD OMOTOSO, U.N. Special Unit for South-South Cooperation

NAIROBI, Dec 5 2009 (IPS) - Fifty-five years after the Asia-Africa Conference in Bandung, Kwame Nkrumah’s exhortation to the developing world to unite for socioeconomic transformation remains resonant.

Omotoso: 'The South must take measures to protect itself from the impact of the global financial crisis.' Credit:  IPS

Omotoso: 'The South must take measures to protect itself from the impact of the global financial crisis.' Credit: IPS

The need for South-South cooperation does not stem from a failure of North-South collaboration, nor is it a substitute for it, according to Edward Omotoso, Senior Special Advisor, U.N. Special Unit for South-South Cooperation.

He urged countries in the North to meet the target of transferring 0.7 percent of their GDP to developing countries, while stressing that the governments in the South must cooperate among themselves if development goals are to be met.   IPS spoke to Omotoso during the High Level United Nations Conference on South-South Cooperation held in Nairobi Dec. 1-3.

IPS: What are the most critical areas for South-South cooperation? EDWARD OMOTOSO: Removing barriers of movement. Countries will always have borders; they are very jealous about their sovereignty and particularly in this era of heightened security.

However, for exchange of expertise, knowledge and technology between countries, governments have to agree to loosen up applications for visas to facilitate this exchange. It is very important that experts move freely, and even for people to trade freely, even though one must safeguard their borders.

Trade is extremely important among developing countries. Trade among these countries per annum is currently about 12 billion dollars and it is expanding.

(Countries of the South) have a lot of things in common culturally, geographically and infrastructure-wise. Many of them are raw material commodity-based economies, or are single commodity-based economies. They can trade amongst themselves instead of looking at outside markets which cost them more.

This commonality calls for South-South countries to strive to harmonise their trade agreements and facilities.

Another opportunity lies in remittances. A lot of these countries have their citizens residing abroad and they send money back to their homes, subsequently reducing poverty. Remittances are a very big part of the economy in many of the countries in the South.

This can be regulated to strengthen competition in the region, even though there may be fears of remittances declining due to the financial crisis.

IPS: How is the South-South cooperation addressing the issue of the global financial crisis?

EO: The problems like banking are cross-border problems and the global financial market is truly global. What happens in Wall Street for instance affects the world; what happens in the North affects the South. It is a ripple effect, when the North sneezes, the South catches a cold.

And so it is for the South to try to take measures to protect itself from the impact of the global financial crisis.

There are some proposals such as the Bank of the South, and financial collaboration, where some people are talking in fact about a Nasdaq, like a Wall Street of the South.

Those issues are on the table, they are being discussed.

IPS: What next after this conference? EO: As you know this conference comes 31 years after the first one held in Argentina, in Buenos Aires. It was to be held last year marking the 30th anniversary of the conference.

In thirty years a lot of progress has been made in the South, and this conference was to evaluate progress made, assess the current situation and look at the way forward. This conference has examined all that and come up with an outcome document after protracted negotiations which started in New York almost two years ago.

The document is forward-looking, and serves as a roadmap to take South-South cooperation to new levels. It is big on areas of collaboration such as trade.

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