Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, during her official visit to France, has also participated at a high-level panel discussion titled ‘South-South and Triangular Cooperation’ organized by Paris Peace Forum on 12 November 2021. While talking about the role of the developed countries in this process, she said, “Many developed countries still fall behind their internationally agreed development commitments. For them, supporting South-South development cooperation programmes can be one way of realising their own commitments.” In view of the present-day world urgency, she opined that South-South cooperation might avail better opportunities in responding to national development priorities. She added, “The financing and technological support of the North can help enhance the transparency and cost-effectiveness of South-South cooperation programmes.” On the triangular cooperation, Sheikh Hasina said, “The idea of triangular cooperation has not lived up to its potentials, and this gap needs to be addressed.” In fact, she emphasized, in her speech, then on fulfilment of development commitments of the developed countries, the urgency of financial and technological supports of the North for the innovative works undertaken in the developing countries, and the strengthening of triangular cooperation.
As Sheikh Hasinahas said, South-South cooperation is not getting much importance in international development discourse; so many projects taken by this cooperation remain under-funded. On the other hand, she said that a good number of home-grown development solutions are already available in the Global South, but many of those solutions could not be implemented and scaled up across other developing countries due to financial constraints. It means, South-South cooperation could contribute much to meeting the needs of the developing countries, if it has that financial strength. Undoubtedly, South-South cooperation, as it was expected, has not been given proper attention in international development platforms, which ultimately forces South-South cooperation to limit its overall initiatives.
It is true that South-South cooperation has undergone major transformation over the last sixty-five years since the Bandung Conference in 1955, where leaders from Asia and Africa called for independence and promotion of economic and cultural cooperation for their mutual benefits. Initially, it focused on development of cooperation that would help these countries in achieving economic and political independence. For realisation of its objectives, it emphasized the need of technical assistances in the form of training, exchange of expertise and know-how, and establishment of national and regional training and research institutions. In 1974, the United Nations institutionalized South-South cooperation by creating a special unit to promote technical cooperation among developing countries (TCDC). The first UN conference on TCDC, held in Argentina, adopted the Buenos Aires Plan of Action (BAPA) for promotion and implementation of technical cooperation, transfer of technology and knowledge sharing among the countries of the South.
We know that the implementation of the MDGs could not fully utilize the potential of South-South cooperation. However, South-South cooperation attracted a renewed interest and attention from the international development cooperation in having bilateral or multilateral attachments, on knowledge, expertise and technology transfer between the countries of the South. In addition, the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable development by the UN General Assembly in September 2015 facilitated South-South cooperation to have a new impetus. South-South cooperation has been recognised as an important element of international development cooperation and one of the key modalities to support the implementation of the SDGs.
Triangular cooperation, emerged in 1960s, has added a new dimension to diversifying and broadening the activities of the international development cooperation, mainly through joint projects and programmes between developing countries with the support from international organisations and developed countries. We can find a number of examples of triangular cooperation, like India-UN Development Partnership Fund, ASEAN dialogue Partner Fund, ESCAP Multi-Donor Trust Fund, etc. As recognised by the 2030 Agenda, Addis Ababa Action Agenda and Paris Agreement, international development cooperation should play a major role in fostering collective action to achieve the SDGs. Acknowledging that scenario, triangular cooperation might organise programmes in a number of areas, like science, technology and innovation,and thus contribute to reducing global imbalances for a more equitable international environment.
We know that modalities of South-South cooperation are to provide funding and technical assistance to develop human and institutional capacities according to the requirements of the user partner countries. With time, its fields of cooperation are widening also. Its priority areas range from SDGs, environment and climate change, disaster, urban/rural development and agriculture, to connectivity issues (transport, trade and ICT), energy, social development and gender and women’s empowerment. Undoubtedly, in its long journey, it has experienced many ups and downs. But it had a good number of success stories in various areas of development cooperation among the countries of the South.
Since the Bandung conference, many developing countries in the Asia and Pacific region have achieved remarkable economic and technological development. It is believed that South-South cooperation could contribute more, if it could organise a better coordinated collaboration and exchange of information among the South-South cooperation providers and users. However, it requires promoting necessary mechanisms to improve coordination and information sharing to match the needs with the resources and enable developing countries to learn from each other’s experience to achieve desired outcomes. The involvement of triangular cooperation would be meaningful, if it can provide sufficient energy and facilities to strengthen South-South cooperation. That might help the countries of the South to march forward, not only for their own development but for the development of the entire humankind. Anyway, in view of the world political equations, the developing countries themselves should work with collective self-reliance, solidarity and political commitment to overcome all hurdles in advancing South-South cooperation.
Bangladesh attaches much importance to South-South cooperation while taking measures in achieving the SDGs by 2030 as well as facilitating new areas of cooperation among the countries of the South. It does not mind to share all of its expertise or experiences with other countries. Even, Bangladesh has the plan to set up its own platform for international economic and technical cooperation. It might, like the Thailand’s International Cooperation Agency (TICA), take the responsibility of implementing Bangladesh’s development cooperation programmes in the neighbouring countries. I am confident it would supplement the strength of South-South cooperation, as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has said, “Our commitment to the Global South is long-standing and proven.”
The writer is a former Ambassador and Secretery.