NAIROBI, Dec 2 (IPS) - The High-level United Nations Conference on South-South Cooperation kicked-off here Tuesday, with U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Asha Rose Migiro calling for practical solutions and reinforced South-South and North-South partnerships to address the demands of our "deeply interconnected world."
The three-day Conference (Dec. 1-3) is highlighting the growing political and economic ties within the developing world as countries of the South assume leading roles in handling global issues ranging from economic recovery to food security, climate change and pandemic disease.
It will also review the 30 years of progress since the U.N. Conference on Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries, held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1978.
Participants expect the Conference to deliver a new and inclusive partnership for development agenda.
"In most cases developing countries’ solutions are more adaptable and affordable that western solutions," Kenyan Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Planning and National Development Edward Sambili told reporters.
"South-South Cooperation is an alternative development effort, it is a instrument of promoting self-reliance," he emphasised.
"There is huge potential for South-South trade," Yiping Zhou, director of the Special Unit for South-South Cooperation within the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), told IPS.
South-South trade has grown by an average 13.4 percent per year since 1995, reaching 2.4 trillion dollars, and equivalent to 20 percent of world trade in 2007. Forty percent of global trade now originates from emerging market and developing countries.
During the same period, the share of African exports to elsewhere in the South increased by an average of seven percent per year. Combined annual African exports to India and China rose to about 40 billion dollars.
Two new reports of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon highlight the current trends.
According to the Secretary General’s reports, total outgoing flows of foreign direct investment (FDI) from developing nations hit a record 253 billion dollars in 2007, constituting about one-eighth of the world total. More than 40 percent of developing country FDI is invested in the 49 economically vulnerable least developed countries (LDCs).
"Development does not occur in a vacuum," Migiro said as she conveyed greetings from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the outset of the High-Level Conference here. "It has proved to be most successful when coupled with strategies to increase cross-border trade and investment."
Developing countries have also become increasingly important sources of development assistance, according to the Secretary General. If pledges are met, total flows could reach 15 billion dollars by next year.
"It is well recognised that the knowledge, skills, and technical expertise which can be exchanged through South-South cooperation are in many cases those most suitable to meeting the development challenges faced by others in the South," said UNDP Administrator Helen Clark, who is also serving as the secretary-general of the Conference.
"The rapid economic growth of some major developing countries has, indeed, dramatically improved the development prospects of neighbouring countries, spurring economic growth and South-South trade and investment," said Altigani Salih Fidail, Sudan’s Minister of International Cooperation on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China.
"Today, all of the 130 member countries of the Group of 77 and China, regardless of their size or level of development, have accumulated varying degrees of capacities and experiences in development that can be shared on a South-South basis."
"Every country of the South has something of value to share, to put on the table," Yiping Zhou told IPS.
But challenges remain.
Despite positive trends overall, "a great number of developing countries, in particular, the least developed, the land-locked and the small island developing states are still beset by worsening poverty, hunger, and unemployment," Fidail stressed.
The ongoing financial crisis has increased the number of people living in extreme poverty in developing countries, and most of these countries are not on track to reach the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set for 2015.
Responding to this problem, Ambassador Gyan Chandra Acharya, Permanent Representative of Nepal and Chairman of the Global Coordination Bureau of the Group of Least Developed Countries together with the Special Unit for South-South Cooperation has invited members of the LDCs Group to a brainstorming meeting on the sidelines of the conference to tackle the priorities and opportunities of South-South Cooperation for LDCs.
"The global crisis we are facing puts the achievement of the MDGs at risk and the international community has to step up its support to developing countries in their struggle to reach the goals," stressed Ann Dismorr, Ambassador of Sweden to Kenya and the U.N. on behalf of the European Union (EU).
"We particularly aim to understand better how to strengthen the role of the U.N. system in supporting South-South and triangular cooperation," Dismorr said.
UNDP aims to support and facilitate the exchange of knowledge and experience across the South to help accelerate development, Clark said, emphasising that UNDP also wants to support regional and sub-regional initiatives.