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Q&A: IBSA Summit Aims to Strengthen South-South Cooperation

Thalif Deen interviews Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri of India

UNITED NATIONS, Apr 8 2010 (IPS) - When the political leaders of three of the world’s major democracies in the global South – India, Brazil and South Africa (IBSA) – gather at a high-powered summit meeting in Brasilia next week, one of the key items on the agenda would be how best to strength economic cooperation among developing nations.

Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri Credit: Courtesy

Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri Credit: Courtesy

“I am very encouraged by the fact that some of us in the developing world – and India in particular – are beginning to step on the accelerator of South-South cooperation,” Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri, India’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, told IPS.

And there are very good reasons for it, he points out.

“If, for instance, the multilateral approach to trade negotiations continues to stall – for whatever reasons – doesn’t it stand to reason that a system of trade preferences among developing countries, most of whom are major players in international trade, should be more actively explored?” he asked.

The IBSA initiative, he said, “is another manifestation of our commitment to South-South cooperation”.

With each of the three countries pledging about one million dollars annually, the IBSA Facility for Poverty and Hunger Alleviation, facilitated by the South-South Unit of the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), continues to provide support for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

IBSA is intensifying its partnership efforts in several regions across the developing world and more initiatives are in the pipeline, he added.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be at the IBSA summit in Brasilia Apr. 13-14, along with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and South African President Jacob Zuma.

As one of the more active partners of IBSA, India has made significant progress in partnering other developing nations in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America and the Caribbean.

Under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme, established in 1964, India has provided technical and economic assistance to thousands of scientists, technocrats, engineers, teachers and medical personnel from developing nations.

This flagship programme, according to Ambassador Puri, covers 158 developing partner countries with over 5,000 participants being offered training in 200 courses spread across 42 leading institutions each year.

The wide range of high-tech areas covered include information technologies (IT), science and technology, pharmaceuticals, agriculture and rural development.

Since 2003, and following the India-Africa Forum summit in 2008, the Indian government also pledged five billion dollars in extended lines of credit over a five-year period – besides the one billion dollars in concessional lending and grants annually.

India has also unilaterally agreed to duty-free and quota-free market access to goods from the 34 least developed countries (LDCs) in Africa.

Meanwhile, the first project under a 10-million-dollar South-South Experience Exchange Facility, set up in 2008, involves the replication in Africa, and specifically in Tanzania, Ethiopia and Uganda, of the success achieved by India in dairy production (India is now the world’s largest producer of milk and dairy products).

“Our overall approach is guided by partnership development,” Puri said in an interview with IPS U.N. Bureau Chief Thalif Deen. “We are not looking at maximising pure commercial and economic gains. That is not our primary focus. We focus on technical cooperation and capacity-building.”

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: How does South-South development assistance differ from North-South development assistance? A: Unlike North-South cooperation, our cooperation with fellow developing countries is premised on the principle of voluntary partnerships – free from conditionalities typical of official development assistance (ODA). We also believe in generating national ownerships in line with national priorities of our partners.

Q: Is the United Nations doing enough to promote South-South cooperation? A: I would find it very difficult to subscribe to the view that the United Nations is doing enough on South-South cooperation. I would encourage the United Nations to do more. In political terms, we value the work of UNDP’s South-South Unit. But it is a very small operation. I would like to see parts of the United Nations, which are entrusted with development priorities, to be undertaking much more ambitious and comprehensive schemes.

Q: Are there any lessons learned in strengthening South-South cooperation and South-South experiences? A: Today, we are dealing largely with post-colonial societies in the developing world. Many of us have the experiences of nation building as part of our expertise and post-colonial experiences. Isn’t that more directly relevant to the challenges faced by other developing countries in Africa and elsewhere?

These are not just my observations but observations made by representatives of these countries when they see the development and progress in fields such as science and technology, information and communications and biotechnology in countries such as India, Brazil and the developing world.

There is a certain natural synergy which attracts people. You have to facilitate that. And one of the means to facilitate that is South-South cooperation.

You have the technology developed specifically for people in a developing society. Therefore it is easier to take that technology to these countries because they are cost-efficient and already tested in laboratory conditions in similar societies.

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