South-South Cooperation

South-South Cooperation is an important topic for the international relations segment of the UPSC civil services exam. In this article, you can read all you need to know about the South-South Cooperation.

What is South-South Cooperation?

The countries of the world are classified on the basis of development. Thus, we have developed and rich countries, developing countries and finally Least Developed Countries. If we carefully observe, the developing and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are located in the Southern Hemisphere of the globe, whereas developed countries are located in the Northern Hemisphere. Due to this geographical fact, scholars have termed developed countries as ‘North’ and developing countries and LDCs as `South’.

Therefore, when the countries of the South or developing countries cooperate in various fields, it is known as South-South Cooperation or Dialogue. Thus, the term South-South Cooperation means the process of cooperation among the developing countries in the economic field and other areas. At present, South-South Cooperation is promoted as a viable strategy by developing countries for their development and progress.

Conversely, when the cooperation and dialogue between the developed North and developing South takes place, it is known as North-South Dialogue. The South-South Cooperation has been adopted by the Non-Aligned Movement as the basic principle of its economic approach to achieve the dream of collective self-reliance among developing countries. Though the term South-South Cooperation emerged in the 1970s, the idea has been on the agenda of NAM for a long time. It is also a basic approach of India’s economic diplomacy towards, developing countries and LDCs.

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Latest on South-South Cooperation – 

  1. The virtual meeting of Raisina Dialogue 2021 was held from April 13th to April 16th 2021 in New Delhi. External Affair Minister S Jaishankar stressed on South-South Cooperation, humanitarian assistance and disaster assistance in the meeting.
    • The Raisina Dialogue is India’ flagship conference on geopolitics and geoeconomics, held annually since 2016. It is jointly organised by the Ministry of External Affairs and the Observer Research Foundation.
  2. To highlight the importance of South-South Cooperation, the General Assembly in its resolution 58/220 decided to observe the United Nations Day for South-South Cooperation on 12 September every year.
    • The United Nations Day for South-South Cooperation celebrates the economic, social and political developments made in recent years by regions and countries in the south and highlights UN’s efforts to work on technical cooperation among developing countries.
  3. An international dialogue on South-South and Triangular Cooperation was recently held in New Delhi.

South-South and Triangular Cooperation:

South-South cooperation is a broad framework of collaboration among countries of the South in the political, economic, social, cultural, environmental and technical domains.

  • Involving two or more developing countries, it can take place on a bilateral, regional, intraregional or interregional basis.
  • Developing countries share knowledge, skills, expertise and resources to meet their development goals through concerted efforts.

Triangular cooperation:

It is a collaboration in which traditional donor countries and multilateral organizations facilitate South-South initiatives through the provision of funding, training, management and technological systems as well as other forms of support.

Importance of South-South Cooperation

There are a number of factors giving rise to the idea of South-South Cooperation and making it a desirable option for developing countries:

1. The developed countries and developing countries are at a different scale of the development process. Hence, their priorities, needs and development concerns are different from each other. They need a collective approach to deal with the problems and issues of global economic order, which affect them.

2. The developing countries, situated nearly at the same scale of the development process have many commonalities to share. These similarities emerge from their common experience of colonialism and economic exploitation. They all share the common problems of poor economic infrastructure, illiteracy, unemployment, poverty, hunger, lack of technology and so on. Thus, a common past, a common present and a common future bring them together for cooperation and a common approach to development issues.

3. After World War II, the developing countries tried to move on the path of self-reliance in order to reduce their dependence on their colonial masters. Since the goal of self-reliance was difficult to be realized at an individual level, they opted for the goal of collective self-reliance. South-South Cooperation was promoted to realize this objective.

4. As the signs of economic interdependence among nations became more pronounced after World War II, the UN, NAM and other international bodies pleaded for development assistance from developed countries to developing and poor countries. Such assistance was provided in the name of Official Development Assistance (ODA) by the developed countries, which was to be 0.7 per cent of their GDP; Similarly, in 1974, the Un General Assembly passed the resolution of New International Economic Order or NIEO, which aimed to establish a global economic order based on the principle of equity, fairness and justice in favour of developing countries. However, the progress towards NIE0 and the ODA was tardy. Moreover, the ODA and transfer of technology from rich countries to poor countries were riddled with many terms and conditions not suitable to developing countries. Thus, as a way out of this impasse, the idea of South-South Cooperation was viewed as a better option and a viable choice.

India and South-South Cooperation

India has always been a chief exponent of South-South Cooperation. Both at collective as well as individual level, India has supported and strengthened the process of South-South Cooperation, which can be explained under the following points:

  • At the collective level, India took the initiative for South-South Cooperation as the North-South Dialogue could not succeed and the dream of NIE0 remained unrealized.
    • Since the Bandung conference, 1955, the goal of collective reliance through the process of cooperation among developing countries has been on the agenda of NAM. At the initiatives of India, the NAM Summit of 1989 held at Belgrade adopted the resolution to set up South Commission to identify the areas and programmes of South-South Cooperation.
    • White Julius Nyerere was the chairman of the Commission, the then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was its first Secretary-General.
    • India has played a leading role in various conferences organized by NAM for this purpose as well as in the international forums like G-77 and UNCTAD to promote the process of cooperation among developing countries.
    • The foundation of IBSA in 2003 is the most important measure in this direction. India succeeded in incorporating the mechanism of South-South Cooperation, for the first time in the international development strategy adopted at the IV UN LDC Conference held in May 2011 in Istanbul for the development of LDCs. This development strategy is known as the Istanbul Programme of Action (IP0A).

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  • At the individual level, India has taken a number of measures for cooperation among developing countries.

South-South Cooperation India

  1. India has launched its flagship programme Indian Technological and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) in the way back in 1964 for the development cooperation with poor developing countries. This programme is being launched in 159 countries of Asia, Africa and other regions for their development. Under this programme, India offers financial as well as technological assistance to various mutually agreed projects of development.
  2. Though India is a recipient of development assistance from rich countries, it also offers development assistance to poor LDC countries. This is the recent development in India’s economic diplomacy.
  3. India offers cheap lines of credit to poor countries for implementing development programmes in these countries.
  4. India gives concession in trade duties in favour of import from the poor countries in order to promote their trade and development.
  5. India has been at the forefront for cooperation in human resource development in poor countries of the South. Besides scholarship to the students from these countries, India has successfully launched many human resource development programmes in these countries. Training of personnel of various categories forms the core element of this programme.

In conclusion, we can say that the idea of South-South Cooperation has travelled a long way but as a collective strategy, it has yet to score a major success. In the era of globalization, some new initiatives for cooperation among developing countries are being taken but their performance is yet to be assessed. South-South Cooperation has been a major plank of India’s policy towards other developing countries and it is likely to be continued to be so in future also.

Evolution and Mechanisms of South-South Cooperation

  • As a strategy of collective self-reliance for developing countries, the idea of South-South Cooperation got wide currency after World War II, as newly liberated developing countries started questioning the prevailing international economic order dominated by rich countries of the ‘North’.

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  • Motivated and constrained by their common colonial past as well as their common future challenges, the developing countries wanted to achieve collective self-reliance and to restructure the prevailing international economic order which was unfair and unjust to them.
  • Their quest for mutual cooperation and collective action found institutionalized expression in the formation of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1961 and the Group of 77 in 1964.
  • The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) was established in 1964 to help the developing countries on trade policy and promotion. Since the range and scope of mutual cooperation were limited among developing countries to the exchange of raw materials and commodities, the call for South-South Cooperation was, initially, inspired more by political and ideological considerations rather by economic imperatives.
  • The decade of 1970 may be considered as the golden period of South-South Cooperation as the United Nations also made efforts to facilitate the process of cooperation among developing countries.
  • In 1974, the UN General Assembly adopted the resolution for the realization of the New International Economic Order (NIEO), which was based on fairness and equity to the developing countries.
  • In 1974, the UN established a special unit within the United Nations Development Programme for Technical cooperation among developing countries. Read more on United Nation Development Programme on the linked page.
  • The decade of 1980 witnessed some sincere efforts made under the aegis of NAM. As a consequence of the Harare Summit of NAM in 1986, the South Commission was set up in 1987, which submitted its final report called ‘The Challenge to the South’ in 1990.
  • However, the impetus for South-South Cooperation gradually withered out in the late 1980s and 1990s in the face of far-reaching global economic, political and technological developments.
    • First, many developing countries suffered heavy debt burden leading to reduced or negative growth rates and were subjected to Structural Adjustment Programme of the international financial regime.
    • Second, the new changes like the growing forces of globalization and liberalization fuelled and supported by neo-liberal agenda and ‘End of History’ thesis, withdrawal of the state from the social and economic sphere, the disintegration of Soviet Union, further integration of Europe, the rapid growth of multinational corporations and strengthening of multilateral macroeconomic policy framework put constraints on the ongoing process of South-South Cooperation.
  • Though the existing mechanisms like NAM and the G-77 continued to harp on the rhetoric of South-South Cooperation, as the global collective action of developing countries, it was sidelined in the global agenda in the face of new challenges at a time when the countries of the South needed it more.
  • The failures of South-South Cooperation and the need for new efforts towards such cooperation were succinctly underlined in the Report of the South Commission submitted in 1990.
  • It admits that the countries of the South have failed to achieve solidarity. They have not been able to establish common priorities in keeping with the development interests of all, or to share technical and negotiating expertise, or to hold constructive South-South discussion.
  • However, the Report was optimistic to note that the South has the capability to exploit its collective resources to acquire maximum countervailing power, and press for global consensus on the goals and management of the newly emerging global order. In fact, the new international conditions in the era of globalization pose new challenges as well as opportunities for South-South Cooperation.

South-South Cooperation in Contemporary Context

In the last twenty years, the process of globalization has affected the nature of economic engagement among nations. There is a marked change in the domestic and external economic policies of developing nations towards liberalization and privatization to adjust with the demands and logic of globalization. Check out the difference between Globalization and Liberalization on the link provided here.

Globalization presents new challenges as well as opportunities before the process of South-South Cooperation, which can be understood under the following points:

  • The process of globalization has generated neo-liberal tendencies in the economic policies of developing countries. Each one has tried to better integrate with the emerging global order, but the success has been uneven. Consequently, some developing countries like India, Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa, etc. have achieved better economic results than others. This has widened the gulf between the developing countries. Now, we have ‘developed South’ and ‘poor South’. The process of globalization has bypassed the entire continent of Africa, as they have not been able to achieve the desired success. These countries lack the elements to compete in the global economic order. This poses new challenges for South-South Cooperation.
  • The process of South-South Cooperation was propelled through NAM, but its economic agenda has weakened under the pressure of globalization.
  • The developed countries of South like India, Brazil, China, South Africa are being gradually integrated with global economic order as they have become the members of the G-20 and Outreach group of G-8. It appears these countries have more stake in the maintenance of prevailing global order rather than changing it to suit the need of the majority of poor developing countries.

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  • In light of the above changes, new forms of South-South Cooperation are emerging. The developed South countries – India, Brazil and South Africa have established IBSA in 2003, with the mixed objectives of trilateral cooperation as well as South-South Cooperation.

The nature of South-South Cooperation is now a one-way process and is distinct from the collective efforts of NAM. In brief, the nature of South-South Cooperation is also changing under the impact of globalization. However, globalization also presents new opportunities for the success of South-South Cooperation.

First, some countries of the South have scored better success in the field of economic growth and technological development which can be shared by them with poor countries for mutual benefit.

Second, as the developing countries now have more diversified economic activities and structures, we have new areas of South-South Cooperation. The developed countries of the South are now better placed to advance the process of South-South Cooperation. The newly established IBSA may prove to be a viable mechanism for this purpose.

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