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No. 373, 7 June 2021

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South Centre participation at the 20th session of the United Nations High-level Committee on South-South Cooperation


The 20th session of the High-level Committee on South-South Cooperation started on 1 June and concluded on 4 June 2021. This is the most important United Nations (UN) intergovernmental meeting on South-South and Triangular Cooperation (SSTrC) since the second High-level United Nations Conference on South-South Cooperation (BAPA+40) of 2019. The meeting is tasked to review progress made in implementing the Buenos Aires Plan of Action, the new directions strategy for South-South Cooperation (SSC), the Nairobi outcome document of the High-level United Nations Conference on South-South Cooperation and the Buenos Aires outcome document of BAPA+40. After four days of deliberation and negotiations, the High-Level Committee endorses its decision on South-South Cooperation.[1]

The South Centre actively participated in this meeting. Dr. Carlos Correa, the Executive Director of the South Centre, spoke as a panellist at the side event co-organized by Argentina and the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC) on South-South and triangular cooperation funding mechanisms – A complementary and multifaceted cooperation for sustainable development”. Argentina is the new Chair of the High-level Committee on South-South Cooperation. Dr. Correa elaborated on how to strengthen national ecosystems and policy frameworks in Southern countries to stimulate South-South cooperation and external investment. He mentioned the publication the South Centre prepared together with the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) entitled Developing National Ecosystems for South-South and Triangular Cooperation to Achieve Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development[2] based on the concept of national ecosystem the IsDB developed over years of fieldwork. The national ecosystem includes seven pillars: (i) political will; (ii) a national strategy for SSTrC; (iii) a national body that acts as the focal point for SSTrC interventions; (iv) information; (v) connected actors; and (vii) performance management systems that allow countries to assess how well they are fulfilling their SSTrC engagements and to find ways to continuously improve. 

Among the seven pillars, Dr. Correa considered that encouraging developing countries to design national strategies for SSC is crucial, in particular in the promotion of long-term partnership and a medium- to long-term strategy for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in line with their national development strategies.

He noted that although countries generally have policy documents which attempt to integrate SSTrC, they do not have specific strategies for it.

Alongside the Member States of the United Nations, international organizations and civil society, the South Centre also made an intervention on 2 June during the general debate of the plenary session.  The statement highlighted that the difficult struggle to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and to cope with the resultant multiple crises has demonstrated to the world once again the importance of South-South cooperation, its tenacity in times of crisis , its ability to connect countries at similar development stages, and above all the strength of solidarity among the Southern countries. The UN Secretary-General has commended that “(c)ountries of the global South have shown solidarity through the modality of South-South  cooperation  in  order  to  limit  the  adverse effects  of  the  COVID-19 pandemic.”

Developing countries have intensified sharing of knowledge and innovations among peers in combating the pandemic and also supported each other in providing medical personnel, equipment and pharmaceuticals including vaccines. However, for North-South cooperation, it does not seem to have passed the litmus test of access to vaccines and increasing financial assistance to vulnerable States up to now.

It is important to highlight that the developing countries, especially the poor and vulnerable ones, have been hardest hit by the pandemic. Their lack of fiscal space and social safety nets, their weak healthcare systems and food insecurity make them the most vulnerable to the devastating effects of the pandemic. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecast, the world gross domestic product (GDP) will be 3% lower in 2024 relative to the no-Covid scenario; the number doubles to 6% for the developing world.[3] Faced with the world’s worst economic recession since World War II, the advanced economies are having the second round of stimulus packages in 2021, but very few developing countries have fiscal space to mount stimulus packages. The pandemic will have a long lasting negative impact on the developing countries. Much of the progress made prior to the pandemic in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and SDGs has been rolled back in the areas of poverty reduction, hunger, inequality, education and so on. Although some industrialized countries have already scaled back their development aid, it would be important to reiterate the principle upheld by BAPA+40, namely South-South cooperation is not a substitute for North-South cooperation but a complement to it. International finance and development institutions must play an enabling role for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. In view of the crushing debt burden, mounting debt servicing costs and severe shortage of liquidity, increasing flow of finance for development and debt relief should take place sooner than later.

The raison d’etre of the South Centre stems from South-South cooperation. The Centre has been working closely with our partners including UNOSSC, IsDB, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and civil society in promoting SSTrC. Such efforts will be accelerated for the purpose of going back to the path of achieving the SDGs.
[1] SSC/20/L.5, 3 June 2021
[3] IMF, World Economic Outlook, April 2021.

Author: Yuefen Li is the Senior Adviser on South-South Cooperation and Development Finance of the South Centre. 
SOUTHNEWS is an e-newsletter service of the South Centre providing information and news on topical issues from a South perspective.

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