DOHA, June (G77/IPS) - As regional economic alliances continue to proliferate -- from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Arab Maghreb Union to the Latin American Economic System and the Economic Community of West African States -- the South Summit in Doha called for an increase in South-South cooperation among developing nations of the Group of 77.
"We must make South-South cooperation the real instrument for our development while recognising that it cannot be a substitute for North-South relations," Ambassador Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, Permanent Representative of Qatar to the United Nations, told reporters at a press conference in Doha.
He said the government of Qatar -- which hosted the summit and which also sponsored a Forum on Trade and Investment in 2004-strongly believes in the importance of South-South cooperation at a time of discriminatory trade barriers, rising debts, falling commodity prices and declining development assistance.
"We must strengthen the unity and solidarity of developing countries as a necessary prerequisite for enhancing the ability of the South to negotiate in international multilateral fora," he added.
Qatar's Minister of Economy and Commerce Sheikh Mohamed bin Ahmad bin Jassim Al-Thani said exports from Argentina and Brazil to China have doubled, and the Chinese market has for the first time become the largest market for neighbouring Asian countries.
In 2003, he said, almost half of all imports by the United States and Japan, and more than a third of all imports by the European Union (EU), came from the South. The same is true of their exports to markets in the South.
The United Nations has set up a Special Unit for South-South Cooperation within the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) as a focal point to help promote cooperation among developing nations.
In a report released last December, the director of the Special Unit Yiping Zhou said the importance of South-South cooperation "cannot be overemphasised in a period of rapid globalisation."
"The affluence of the (industrial) North is built on strong and inter-active webs of cooperation, and it is imperative that the global South follow suit if the gross imbalance between developed and developing countries is to be remedied," he said.
The concept of South-South cooperation received its first major boost at a conference on technical cooperation among developing countries in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1978.
Since then, says a new U.N. report on South-South cooperation, developing countries have been "driving world trade and growth" to new heights. The study singles out five countries -- Brazil, China, Cuba, India and Qatar -- as continuing to be more active than others as prominent advocates of South-South cooperation.
Brazil has been described as a leader with Africa and Asia, as well as within Latin America. "It has one of the most vital programmes for supporting other developing countries in the areas of public administration, health, education, agriculture, environment, energy and small enterprises," the study says.
China, a significant market for developing-country exports of commodities, has signed a wide range of trade and development agreements -- especially in the energy sector.
India too is emerging as a global market force, especially in the information technology industry, according to the U.N. study. Both countries now have "strong programmes" that provide training for nationals of other developing countries and support for building institutional capacity, and both are known to commit substantial funding for such projects.
Perhaps the best track record, according to the report, is in Southeast Asia where regional cooperation has been driven by a combination of treaty-based action by governments and market-oriented actions by the private sector.
Beginning 2005, Asian foreign exchange reserves amounted to some 2.4 trillion dollars, of which 1.6 trillion dollars were accounted for by developing countries in the region, including China and India.
In October 2003, the 10-member ASEAN signed "a watershed agreement" to establish an economic community by 2020. China and India became the first countries outside ASEAN -- which consists of Brunei, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Burma -- to accede to the group's founding Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, which renounces the use of force.
The Asian countries have also jointly signed an agreement for a pan-Asian highway, with roads into 32 countries already linked to the project.
"When completed, the system will ease the problems of landlocked central Asia and facilitate travel to capital cities, major harbours, tourist attractions, and industrial and commercial centres," the report says.
Additionally, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Burma, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand have agreed to create a free trade zone by 2017. And India has agreed to conduct a feasibility study for a deep-sea port in Burma to serve as a transportation hub between south and southeast Asia.
Still, the U.N. study concedes that "there are serious problems facing many developing countries, especially in Africa and those that are least developed, landlocked or small islands."
However, much of the current planning for increased South-South cooperation in Africa is conducted under the auspices of the 53-member African Union (AU) and the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).
"African roads, railways and air transport links, where they exist, are often of low quality, while governmental rules and regulations further slow the flow of goods and people within countries and across national borders," the report notes.
GCC SAYS IT HAS EXCEEDED 0.7 ODA GOAL
DOHA,June (G77/IPS)-- Abdulrahman Hamad Al-Attiyah, secretary- general of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), told delegates that in the area of development, the GCC countries have played a silent leadership role.
''While the United Nations has long called for rich countries to allocate no less than 0.7 percent of their GNI to development assistance, few countries have done so,'' he said.
In contrast, the GCC, comprising the largely oil-blessed countries of Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman, ''has long exceeded this goal by providing assistance directly, or through several development funds it operates.''
''We greatly appreciate the proposal to establish the South Fund for economic and social development, as well as to eradicate hunger and poverty,'' he added.
Last June, the Group of Eight (G8) -- namely, the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada and Russia -- agreed to cancel the debts of some 18 highly-indebted countries. The agreement is expectred to benefit some 18 countries, 14 in Africa, of which 13 are least developed countries (LDCs): Benin, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mali Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia
Addressing delegates, Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Morshed Khan singled out the decision by the European Union to double its official development assistance (ODA) by 2010, to reach the 0.7 target by 2015.
''I pay special tribute to the five countries, namely Norway, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, which have achieved the 0.7 percent target."
''We hope the rest of the donors will redouble their efforts to meet their three-and-half decade old commitment,'' Khan told delegates. The United States and Japan are two key donors who have not made any firm commitments to meet the 0.7 target on specific deadlines.
He said that annual ODA flows should increase to about 100 billion dollars by 2010: from the current average of about 55 to 60 billion dollars annually.
Anwarul Karim Chowdhury, U.N. under-secretary-general for LDCs, said he ''warmly welcomes'' the Qatari gesture to the world's poorest nations.
''We believe that LDCs are most deserving because they are the most economically vulnerable group of countries, particularly those in Africa. We hope other emerging developing nations will follow suit by devoting increased assistance to LDCs.''
Chowdhury said that 34 out of the 50 LDCs are on the African continent and are urgently in need of financial assistance to put their economies on a sound footing.
"It is a major step in alleviating poverty in Africa," Chowdhury said. He said he hoped the G8 initiative will be implemented in a quick time-frame.
But Delano Franklyn, Jamaica's minister of state for foreign affairs and foreign trade, expressed reservations about the G8 initiative.
He told reporters the proposed debt cancellation was predicated on democratic governance. "But democracy is a relative term," Franklyn argued, "and it would be interesting to see how the G8 defines democracy."
He said the "enlightened decision" to cancel debts did not come by chance. The developing countries have been pressing for such consideration for more than a decade. "It has now manifested itself, but it is still better late than never."
"But we do not believe it is right to extend assistance that is conditional," he added.
Meanwhile, the summit adopted a 23-page Doha Plan of Action and a 14-page Doha Declaration which spell out North-South relations, South-South cooperation, and the shortcomings and economic inequities inherent in the international economic system which need to be rectified.