What is ‘South-South cooperation’ and why does it matter?

©FAO/Wang Jinbiao Through the South-South Cooperation (SSC), training and technical guidance on rice production have been provided to farmers in Africa and now in Cote D’Ivoire they are celebrating a bumper harvest.

This article is brought to you in association with the United Nations.


This week in Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires, over one thousand people, including high level government delegations and representatives from the private sector and civil society, will gather for the Second High-level United Nations Conference on South-South Cooperation, or BAPA+40.

The Conference marks the 40th anniversary of the United Nations Conference on Technical Cooperation Among Developing Countries, which was also held in Buenos Aires.

The central theme of discussion will be how South-South cooperation represents an opportunity to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the globally-agreed blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who will participate in opening ceremony of the event, strongly believes in the importance of South-South cooperation to generate both new ideas and concrete projects and also as a means to enable voices from the Global South to drive innovation and promote development.

UN News has put together a handy guide to answer some questions regarding this important meeting.

  1. Let’s start with the basics, what is South-South Cooperation?

South-South cooperation refers to the technical cooperation among developing countries in the Global South. It is a tool used by the states, international organizations, academics, civil society and the private sector to collaborate and share knowledge, skills and successful initiatives in specific areas such as agricultural development, human rights, urbanization, health, climate change etc.

  1. What happened in Argentina 40 years ago?

During the 1960s and 1970s, with the global socio-economic climate entangled with Cold War politics, developing countries began seeking ways to chart the course of their own development; alternatives to the existing economic and political order.

Technical cooperation among these Southern States started as a pioneering associative effort to strengthen their diplomatic and international negotiating power through political dialogue.

What is now known as South-South cooperation, derives from the adoption of the Buenos Aires Plan of Action for Promoting and Implementing Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries (BAPA) by 138 UN Member States in Argentina, on September 18, 1978.

The plan established a scheme of collaboration among least developed countries, mostly located in the south of the planet. It also established for the first time a framework for this type of cooperation, and incorporated in its practice the basic principles of relations between sovereign States: respect for sovereignty, non-interference in internal affairs and equality of rights, among others.

The BAPA defined as well a series of new and concrete recommendations aimed at establishing legal frameworks and financing mechanisms at the national, regional, interregional and global levels.

Technical cooperation was defined in Buenos Aires as “an instrument capable of promoting the exchange of successful experiences among countries that share similar historical realities and similar challenges”.

  1. But what about North-South cooperation and Triangular cooperation?

The division of “North” and “South” is used to refer to the social, economic and political differences that exist between developed countries (North) and developing countries (South).

Although most of the high income countries are indeed located in the northern hemisphere, it should be noted that the division is not totally faithful to the actual geographical division. A country is defined as North or South not by location, but depending on certain economic factors and the quality of life of its population.

North-South cooperation, which is the most traditional type of cooperation, occurs when a developed country supports economically or with another kind of resources a less favored one, for example, with financial aid during a natural disaster or a humanitarian crisis.

Triangular cooperation, as the name implies, involves three actors, two from the South and one from the North. The latter, which can also be an international organization, provides the financial resources so that the countries of the South can exchange technical assistance on a specific topic.

For example, in what is considered a successful experience, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) made it possible financially for demining Cambodian experts to travel to Colombia and exchange their knowledge and experience in that field. Both Cambodia and Colombia had a major issue with anti personnel-mines in different moments of their history.

  1. What is the importance of South-South cooperation?

“Innovative forms of knowledge exchange, technology transfer, emergency response and recovery of livelihoods led by the South are transforming lives,” said the Secretary-General in November 2018, during the inauguration of the 10th South-South Development Expo at UN Headquarters in New York.

“The facts speak for themselves”, António Guterres said. The countries of the South have contributed to more than half of the world’s growth in recent years; intra-south trade is higher than ever, accounting for more than a quarter of all world trade; the outflows of foreign direct investment from the South represent a third of the global flows; and remittances from migrant workers to low and middle income countries reached 466 billion dollars last year, which helped lift millions of families out of poverty.

The UN chief believes that the ambitious and transformational 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development can not be achieved without the ideas, energy and tremendous ingenuity of the countries of the Global South.

  1. What can South-South cooperation achieve?

Together with political dialogue and financial cooperation, South-South cooperation has promoted a large number of knowledge and expertise exchanges through programs, projects and initiatives that have helped solve specific problems in the countries of the Global South.

Last November, the UN Office for South-South Cooperation published a document gathering more than 100 successful experiences that have contributed to the development of countries around the world.

The publication contains examples from all regions of the world that demonstrate the potential success of South-South cooperation such as Cuba’s support in the fight against Ebola in West Africa; Mexico’s experience in diversifying corn products to improve health and nutrition in Kenya; the knowledge of strategies to reduce hunger shared by Colombia to Mesoamerican countries; and the lessons from Chile to the Caribbean countries on product labeling as a measure to end obesity, among many others.

  1. What is going to happen this week in Argentina?

The Member States will meet again in Buenos Aires for the Second High Level Conference on South-South Cooperation, BAPA+40, to review four decades of trends and launch a  new strategy in order to implement the 2030 Agenda.

BAPA+40, provides a unique opportunity to review the lessons learned since 1978, identify new areas and mechanisms where South-South and Triangular cooperation can add value and have a greater impact, and commit to build an adequate and systematic follow-up in the framework of the United Nations system.

For three days, world leaders will meet to discuss a political declaration that is expected to call for an increase in South-South cooperation, as well as an institutional strengthening of reporting and monitoring systems for this type of partnership.

The event will also feature panel discussions and a pavilion of different countries that will share successful experiences, demonstrating the effectiveness of this type of cooperation, and the potential of the ideas of the countries in the Global South.

  1. How can I participate in the discussion?

You can follow live coverage of the event on UN Web TV.

If you miss anything, all on-demand videos related to BAPA+40 can be found here: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/conferencessummits/second-high-level-united-nations-conference-on-south-south-cooperation-20-22-march-2019-buenos-aires-argentina/

On social media, you can comment, tweet, and participate using the hashtags: #BAPA40; #SouthSouthCooperation; and #SouthSouth.

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