Cooperating in the South

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By Elizabeth Morgan

As you know, an objective of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in 2020 is strengthening relations with Africa through the African Union (AU). A summit was scheduled around the time of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Rwanda. Postponement of CHOGM also saw the postponement of the CARICOM/AU Summit. I refer to my article on “Strengthening CARICOM/Africa Relations” published in the Gleaner on February 5, 2020. Gleaner editorials seem to support increased cooperation between Africa and CARICOM to strengthen the alliance, promote south/south cooperation and support multilateralism.

The effort to encourage South/South dialogue and technical cooperation has been around since the 1955 Bandung Asia/Africa Conference held in Indonesia. Although there are tangible achievements, the overall success and profile of south/south cooperation has fluctuated through the years given the leadership, resources and commitment in the South.

Currently, we do not seem to know very much about the South generally i.e. countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean, their organizations, leaders, policy positions and activities. There is some coverage in the local media but most of our limited information comes from international news sources, such as CNN International, BBC and Aljazeera, for those of us with an interest.

South/South Cooperation

The South, referring to developing countries, is of course a political construct as, geographically, most developing countries are not located in the southern hemisphere, but are actually above the equator. Thus, this is another paradox of international relations.

The concept of South/South cooperation was formalized in the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), when, in 1965, the Group of 77 was founded to build negotiating capacity and promote economic development. It now has 135 members, including India and China, and is known as the G77 and China. The Group is currently chaired by Guyana. Associate groups include the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), specializing in environment/climate issues, which is currently chaired by Belize.

Recall that in 1975, the Georgetown Agreement established the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States which also incorporated south-south cooperation. With the 2020 Revised Georgetown Agreement, the ACP has undergone a name change and is now the Organization of the African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS). The ACP President, following its 2019 Summit, is Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya.

South/South Cooperation was further established in the UN through the Buenos Aires Plan of Action for Promoting and Implementing Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries held in Argentina in September 1978. There is a UN Office on South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC). High Level South/South Conferences were held in Nairobi in 2009 and Buenos Aires in March 2019. The focus now is on implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). The third conference scheduled for Kampala, Uganda in April was also postponed.

The South Centre, based in Geneva, was established in 1995 to conduct research and policy studies on development issues of specific interest to its 54 members from the south.

Regional organizations of the South

Overarching regional organizations include:

  1. The Community of Latin American and Caribbean Countries (CELAC) – This was established in 2010 championed by the leaders of Brazil and Venezuela. The idea was to strengthen dialogue and regional cooperation among the 33 States of Latin America and the Caribbean including Cuba. CARICOM is a member of this group. With the change of political and economic circumstances in South American countries, including Brazil and Venezuela, CELAC’s vitality waned. Mexico’s President, Andrés Obrador, assumed the one year presidency of CELAC at a Summit in January with plans to revitalize the group.
  2. The African Union (AU) – I addressed the AU, now moving to a trade and economic union, in my article of February 5. The Chairperson is President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa. The focus here is on strengthening the Pan-African relationship and that with other countries including those in the South. We know of Africa’s relationship with China, but the AU is also strengthening its relationship with India. Africa and Asia have a longstanding strategy for strengthening their partnership.
  3. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – this group, established from 1967, has ten (10) members, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Brunei, Laos and Myanmar. ASEAN is becoming an economic community.

Currently, all regions/countries in the South, including China and India, are focusing on their strategies for containing COVID-19 and limiting the social and economic fallout. I think most agree that there is need for a multilateral approach to this virus and its economic consequences. In this time of crisis, promoting solidarity within the South requires credible and influential leaders, effective coordination, policy consensus, and the political will and commitment on all sides to follow through and follow-up.

Submitted by Elizabeth Morgan, Specialist in International Trade Policy and International Politics

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