South-South cooperation and capacity development

By Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs

Your Excellency President Uribe,
Mr. Chair,
Distinguished Participants,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honor to address the opening session of this High-Level Event on South-South cooperation and capacity development. It is an important opportunity to help developing countries, particularly the poorest, in these difficult times.

I would like to thank the government of Colombia for hosting such an important event and for the warm hospitality extended to all of us.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Last December, we commemorated the 30th anniversary of the landmark Buenos Aires Plan of Action in Nairobi, a blueprint, designed by the South themselves to promote South-South cooperation. The outcome document of the Nairobi High-Level Conference has also stressed the unique value-added of South-South cooperation in capacity development.

The scale and scope of South-South cooperation has expanded significantly.  The increasing engagement of the South in the multiple spheres of development cooperation is a salient feature of global cooperation today.

South-South cooperation has withstood the test of time. Solidarity has not only endured but has resulted in stronger and deeper economic bonds. There has been consensus that the stronger evidence of cooperation among developing countries should not become a pretext for weaker, traditional North-South cooperation. But, both need to move on mutually supportive tracks. 

I believe that South-South cooperation can contribute in many ways. It is cooperation based on mutual respect and equal partnerships. It is aimed at strengthening national efforts and facilitating capacity building and development. 

First of all, South-South cooperation carries little macroeconomic or governance conditionalities, which enhances programme countries’ ownership. South-South cooperation has been able to better support programme countries’ priorities for infrastructure development and productive sector development. Also, many Southern contributors provide more predictable financial resources overall. 

Faster implementation, lower transaction costs and better value for money, among others, were also shown to be hallmarks of South-South cooperation. The question now is how can we do better in South-South cooperation and how can we use this modality to build capacity?

The United Nations, and particularly we in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, are there to help put our knowledge to help the poorest and the most vulnerable.  We are there to help you in whatever way you see appropriate.

DESA is home to the secretariat of the Development Cooperation Forum and among the many tasks given to this Forum is the task of analyzing and understanding new trends.  South-South cooperation is one such trend. 

The DCF brings together donors and developing countries to have candid dialogue on issues of common concern and interest. The non-legislative nature of its outcome enables free and frank views and perspectives, giving stronger ownership to developing countries. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Capacity development is one of the keys to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.  I hope that the UN Summit on MDGs in September will give it the importance it deserves in development cooperation. 

Capacity development accounts for a relatively small share of the overall South-South development cooperation flows, but represents a very promising sector of South-South cooperation.

Developing countries as a group now have the entire range of modern technical competencies, with centers of excellence in key areas.

The expertise and skills of developing countries are evolving in an environment of similar factor endowments and relatively poorer infrastructure. They are thus more attuned to similar geo-climatic conditions, well-suited to size of markets in developing countries, and more cost-effective.

I will give the examples of capacity development from two important sectors – agriculture and health.

South–South cooperation offers real opportunities for the transfer of policy experiences and technologies necessary for boosting agricultural productivity in developing countries.  It also opens new investment and market opportunities on a more level playing field than currently exists for many agricultural producers.

The success of these efforts, however, ultimately relies on a supportive international system, which requires donors to end any distortionary practices in agriculture.

South-South cooperation in the area of medicine offers real hopes for the achievement of several MDGs. The group of “neglected diseases” for example, malaria, TB and others is a low priority for both private and public investors in pharmaceutical Research and Development.

South-South cooperation, for many developing countries, may be the only viable way to improve the availability and affordability of essential medicines and vaccines.

This potential must be unlocked and systemized in order to make a wider impact. Practical measures should be taken to map the comparative advantage and capacity of developing countries, and their institutions in medicine.  

I would like to add that capacity development will not take place in the absence of an enabling environment, including necessary facilities. The Bulk of South-South cooperation flows has been dedicated to infrastructure development, whose contribution to capacity development seems under-recognized. 

The construction of roads, hospitals and schools provides basic facilities to enable the build-up of economic capacity as well as skills and expertise in the health and education sectors.

We should not lose sight of the role of infrastructure development in the discussion of capacity development, but rather explore ways to strengthen linkages between these two important modalities.

The 2010 DCF will contribute to the discussion of South-South cooperation in capacity development by focusing on best practices in South-South technical cooperation in agriculture, medicine and infrastructure.  It will also bring to the fore, the importance of triangular cooperation in supporting South-South cooperation and helping countries to maximize the impact on capacity development.

If South-South cooperation is to become a key driver of development, then on the operational side, all relevant UN system organizations must intensify their efforts to effectively mainstream the use of South-South cooperation in the design, formulation and implementation of their programmes. We will work in the UN to make this happen.

Mr. President,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

As you all know, the High-level Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly, in September will review global progress towards the MDGs. The DCF has always viewed development cooperation in the broad context of achieving these important goals.

The DCF strives to generate consensus towards increasing aid flows, respecting national ownership and reducing political conditionalities, which are all critical for the achievement of the MDGs.

We approach South-South cooperation with several perspectives.  Some focus on better analytical support, others to strengthen political support while a third approach is to maximize the practical impact on the ground.  In all these approaches, the objectives are common:

As you embark on your important deliberations, I encourage all of you, in spite of the differing approaches to South-South cooperation, to start from our common objectives. Let’s come up with some practical measures to maximize the contribution of South-South cooperation and capacity development to this paramount objective.

I wish you success in your deliberations.

Thank you.

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