Mr. Denis Benn
Director of the Special Unit for TCDC

High-level Committee on TCDC bolsters importance of South-South cooperation

UNITED NATIONS, June 13 (G-77)— Given the increased emphasis on South-South cooperation in recent years, it may be quite timely to convene a UN Conference on South-South Cooperation as proposed during the 1970s, according to Denis Benn, Director of the UNDP’s Special Unit for Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries (TCDC). In an interview with the JOURNAL OF THE GROUP OF 77, Benn said that with the renewed emphasis on the subject, a conference of this nature could conceivably be convened in the future. Although the idea was floated during the 49th session of the General Assembly, no agreement was reached because of the large number of UN conferences already planned at that time, he said. Excerpts from the interview:

JOURNAL: The tenth session of the High Level Committee on the Review of TCDC was held recently in New York. Could you tell us what you see as the main results of the meeting?

BENN: The tenth session of the HLC adopted several important decisions on TCDC. It strongly affirmed the continued importance of TCDC and South-South Cooperation in general as a strategy in support of the development efforts of the developing countries and as a means of ensuring their effective participation in the emerging international economic order that is increasingly being shaped by the forces of globalization and economic liberalization. It also called upon UNDP and the other organizations and agencies of the UN development system to ensure that their activities are increasingly oriented towards the promotion of TCDC and South-South Cooperation. In this latter connection, it urged the Administrator of UNDP to carry out consultations with the various UN organizations and agencies on the guidelines on TCDC previously approved by the Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC) and to submit recommendations on the subject to the fifty-second session of the UN General Assembly. The Committee also called upon the international community to contribute increased resources for the implementation of TCDC activities.

JOURNAL: There was some discussion during the meeting of ‘pivotal TCDC countries’, Could you elaborate on the concept and describe how SU/TCDC intends to deal with these countries?

BENN: As you may know, the New Directions strategy for TCDC calls for the identification of pivotal countries to serve as catalysts for the promotion of TCDC. A number of countries have been initially identified in the various regions to perform this function by virtue of their capacity and experience in promoting TCDC. A meeting of pivotal countries will be convened in Chile in November, 1997, to identify specific ways in which these countries could contribute to an expansion of TCDC. The Special Unit for TCDC is currently preparing proposals on the subject for consideration by the pivotal countries.

JOURNAL: There was apparently much debate on the role and functions of the Special Unit for TCDC. In fact, the High Level Committee called for the maintenance of the separate identity of the Unit and for it to be provided with adequate resources to carry out its mandate. What is the background to this issue?

BENN: It is true that the High Level Committee reaffirmed, as it has done on many occasions in the past, the need to respect the separate identity of the Special Unit. In fact the issue provoked a lively exchange of views among delegations. The High Level Committee underlined the fact that the Special Unit was created on the basis of UN General Assembly resolution 32/51 (XXIX) which also endorsed the functions set out in the report of the Working Group on TCDC previously established by the Assembly. It was felt, particularly by the developing countries, that the legal basis of the Special Unit was not fully appreciated and that the Committee should therefore seek to highlight its special status.

JOURNAL: The High Level Committee decided to request the UN General Assembly to convene during its fifty-third session in 1998 a special commemorative meeting to mark the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Buenos Aires Plan of Action (BAPA). Could you explain the significance of this decision?

BENN: The Committee felt that the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of BAPA should be appropriately observed. It was agreed that on that occasion the General Assembly could adopt an appropriate declaration and that it could thereby give further impetus to the implementation of the New Directions strategy for TCDC that was adopted at the ninth session of the High Level Committee on the Review of TCDC held in May/June 1995. I believe the occasion will be significant since it would permit the Assembly to reaffirm the importance of TCDC and South-South Cooperation as central elements of international development cooperation.

JOURNAL: How would you assess the present state of TCDC and South-South Cooperation?

BENN: Within recent years, renewed emphasis has been placed on TCDC and ECDC. This is based on the recognition that many developing countries have developed significant technical capacities that can be utilized in support of the development of other countries. In addition, given increasing population size and rates of economic growth, together with the increased differentiation among developing countries, the potential for an expansion of South-South trade is also quite significant. I feel therefore that South-South Cooperation will feature as an increasingly important item on the international development agenda and in the work of the United Nations.

JOURNAL: The Conference on Trade, Investment and Finance held in Costa Rica in January and the Conference of Foreign Ministries of Non-Aligned countries both recommended the convening of a South Summit while the latter also called for the convening of a UN Conference on South-South Cooperation. What are your views on these proposals?

BENN: Although the proposal for a South Summit has been revived recently, it was originally proposed during the 1970s but not much came of it largely, I believe, because of the existence of the Non-Aligned Summit which included most developing countries. I feel however that with the new emphasis on the subject, a conference of this nature could conceivably be convened in the future. In respect of the UN Conference on South-South Cooperation, this proposal was first mooted during the forty- ninth session of the General Assembly in 1994. However, no agreement was reached on the subject on that occasion, became of the large number of UN Global Conferences that had already been planned. Now that these conferences are out of the way, the climate may be more propitious for the convening of such a conference. In fact, it may be quite timely to convene such a Conference, given the increased emphasis on South-South Cooperation in recent years.