Global South gets together to build stronger ties

Planning and National Development permanent secretary Edward Sambili (left) and the United Nations Development programme director Yiping Zuou at a media briefing on the South-South Cooperation conference. Photo/FREDRICK ONYANGO
Planning and National Development permanent secretary Edward Sambili (left) and the United Nations Development programme director Yiping Zuou at a media briefing on the South-South Cooperation conference. Photo/FREDRICK ONYANGO 

The UN is holding a three-day high-level meeting for developing countries in Nairobi to discuss priority development issues and enhance South-South Cooperation.

The Special Unit for South-South Cooperation (SU/SSC), established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1978, is to host the meeting which starts on Wednesday, with over 100 nations having confirmed participation.

Among the topics to be discussed at the meeting are trade and the millennium development goals (MDGs).

A meeting of developing nations has not been held in decades.

In the interim, countries in the global south have assumed leading roles in the decision-making process on global issues ranging from economic recovery to food security and climate change.

China, for example, has risen to become the third largest economy in the world and has the world’s largest foreign exchange arsenal at over $2.2 trillion – higher than the economy of France and nearly the size of the UK economy.

Undue advantage

A press release from the UN said that since 2008, the kinds of discussions on global economic policy once carried out in the exclusive G8 club of nations are taking place in the slightly more inclusive G20, and both the secretary general and the UN General Assembly are keen to drive home the message that the consequences of the economic crisis are felt by yet another G group – the G-192.

South-South merchandise trade has grown by 13.4 per cent per annum since 1995, reaching $2.4 trillion or 20 per cent of world trade in 2007.

Exports from emerging markets and developing countries account for about 40 per cent of the overall world total.

However, most countries in South continue to complain about unfavourable terms of trade with developed countries.

A major cause of the failure to conclude the Doha Round of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks is the perception that developed nations are out to gain undue advantage vis-à-vis the developing nations.

The SU/SSC is hosted by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and its primary mandate is to promote, coordinate and support South-South cooperation on United Nations system-wide basis.

In a press briefing on Tuesday, national development and Vision 2030 ministry PS Dr Edward Sambili said the meeting would provide an opportunity for countries to evaluate the challenges facing them and discuss how to confront them.

Speaking at the Treasury, Dr Sambili said that the meeting which is to be held at the UN headquarters in Gigiri to commemorate 30 years since the SU/SSC was formed, “is an instrument of promoting self-reliance among the developing countries.”

He noted that most of Kenya’s exports are to the Comesa region.

South-South cooperation has led to a seven per cent per annum increase in combined annual African exports to India and China, to a current level of $40 billion.

Total outgoing flows of foreign direct investment (FDI) from developing nations hit a record $253 billion in 2007 constituting one-eighth of the world total.

More than 40 per cent of the developing countries FDI is invested in economically vulnerable least developing countries (LDCs).

Developing countries have become increasingly important sources of development assistance to the extent that if pledges are met, total flows could reach $15 billion by 2010.

The conference will have two round tables with the first dwelling on how developing and industrialized countries can collaborate as well as how the private sector and the nongovernmental organisations can come in and assist.

The second round table will be on the UN’s role in the South-South cooperation.

There will be also a caucus of 49 developing countries – most of them in Africa – which will come up with a list of priorities such as the MDGs.

The UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said in a report of the performance of the SU/SSC that success stories in South-South cooperation were however tempered by the difficult and destabilising trends such as the reversal in economic fortunes in many countries in 2008-9 period.

This, he said, made it difficult to attain MDGs, and led to an increase in the number of malnourished to exceed one billion and the ominous impact of climate change.