UNITED NATIONS (G77/IPS) — Ambassador Munir Akram of Pakistan, chairman of the Group of 77 and China, has made a strong case for strengthening South-South cooperation, which he points out, is becoming increasingly important to developing nations.
“It is one of the most exciting areas for the G77,” he said, in an interview with the JOURNAL OF THE GROUP OF 77.
“Our focus really is how the more fortunate developing countries could help the less fortunate and more vulnerable developing countries in addressing problems such as poverty and hunger,” he added.
South-South cooperation, he pointed out, is still in its “nascent stage.” “It is happening mostly on a bilateral and regional basis. But it is still not structured on an international basis.”
“As chair of the Group of 77, we have to see how we can structure cooperation among developing countries at a policy level and at the institutional level.”
“We have to find ways and means of getting a bigger bang for the buck. We have to actually see a larger percentage of resources and international assistance delivered to developing nations rather than on administrative costs and expenditures on development experts.”
He said there were far too many intermediaries. “Our effort should be to find out how we can utilise international assistance and development cooperation to their maximum.”
Addressing a high level meeting on South-South cooperation, Ambassador Akram further underlined the importance of the “growing new phenomenon.”
He said that South-South trade has come to represent about 40 percent of the trade of developing countries, and has grown, on average, at the rate of 11 percent a year over the past decade.
He said that South-South cooperation is not a substitute for North-South cooperation. “Indeed, South-South cooperation cannot and should not replace North-South cooperation.”
He said that developed countries must fulfil their commitments for North-South cooperation. “This is dictated by principles of equity and solidarity and it is in their own long-term interest.”
Ambassador Akram also said that the proliferation of transnational threats has led to new incentives for strengthened South-South responses within and between regions.
“Clearly, while the challenges persist, there are also emerging opportunities which should be grasped.”
Meanwhile, in a 19-page report released here, the United Nations says “the outstanding economic performance of Brazil, China and India, as well as a number of pivotal developing countries, including Chile, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa and Thailand, has, through South-South cooperation, had a significant impact on the development prospects of other countries in the global South.”
In 2005, the combined output of developing economies accounted for more than half of the total world gross domestic product (GDP) in purchasing power parity.
U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Least Developed Countries, Anwarul Karim Chowdhury, said the U.N. progress report records that the agenda for South-South Cooperation has expanded significantly to include not only economic and technical sectors but also security, good governance, health and the environment.
“It needs also to be borne in our deliberations that South-South cooperation is changing the landscape of international relations, particularly in trade, financial flows and regional integration,” he told delegates.
The 30 year-old Special Unit for South-South Cooperation, headed by Yiping Zhou and housed in the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), has remained the focal point to promote cooperation among developing nations.
UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis said the time is ripe for a re-evaluation of the South’s role in its own cooperation and development, including examining the most beneficial ways in which the U.N. development system can support those efforts.
Dervis said South-South trade grew rapidly over the past decade, reaching $562 billion in 2004 compared with $222 billion in 1995.
South-South foreign direct investments have also increased: from $14 billion in 1995 to $47 billion in 2003, according to the latest available figures.
Meanwhile, the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has moved to create a free trade zone by 2015, instead of 2020 as originally envisaged.
The Middle East now has a Greater Arab Free Trade Area created in 2005, while a South Asian Free Trade Agreement was signed in January 2006.
In Africa, existing free trade zones such as the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa and the East African Community have been strengthened and consolidated through new and existing trade and development agreements, according to the study.
The member countries of ASEAN— Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), the Philippines, Indonesia, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia —have also significantly increased their partnership with China, which is a member of the Group of 77.
By the end of 2005, China had invested $1.08 billion in ASEAN while Chinese businessmen have opened more than 1,000 enterprises in ASEAN countries, according to the U.N. study.
In 2006, China earmarked preferential loans totaling about $5.0 billion to encourage Chinese enterprises to invest in ASEAN. In June 2006, China concluded a China-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement, which is be fully implemented in 2010.
The United Nations also points out that South-South cooperation has expanded considerably in several other fields, including assistance during natural disasters; growing concerns about the impact of climate change; terrorist attacks; the spread of HIV-AIDS; and other transnational threats.
The newly-established ASEAN Earthquake Information Centre in Singapore facilitates dissemination of information to member countries through the Internet while the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre in Bangkok coordinates national early warning centres for tsunamis.
In Latin America, South-South triangular capacity-building is being promoted through organisations such as the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Mercado Comun Sudamericano (MERCOSUR) and the South American Community of Nations.
The countries in Latin America and the Caribbean continue to focus on issues relating to telecommunications, the environment and energy for sustainable development.
The U.N. study also says that a number of countries, such as India and China, have established themselves as key players in the development of information and communications technology, while several others, including Costa Rica and the Philippines, are now quickly emerging as leaders in this field in their respective regions.
A “notable achievement” is attempts by Rwanda to become the “Silicon Valley of East Africa.” Currently, Rwanda serves as the headquarters for the East Africa Submarine Cable System initiative: a $280 million project that will serve Botswana, Kenya, Lesotho, South Africa, Uganda and Tanzania.
“The country’s Vision 2025 to build a ‘modern knowledge-based economy’ has given impetus to similar projects in Sierra Leone, and discussions about the potential for other landlocked developing countries to use the information and communication technology plans of Rwanda as a model,” the study noted.