Published:Daily Mirror, Colombo, May 23, 2005

By Pradeep S Mehta

Leaders of 106 countries from Africa and Asia representing about three-fourths of humanity met in Indonesia in April to reinvigorate the spirit of 1995. The Bandung Conference led to the emergence of the Non-Aligned Movement and was the first step towards promoting South-South Cooperation. Bandung I was more political in nature as most of the participating countries had got their political freedom very recently, much of Africa was still under colonial rule and a significant part of South-East Asia was still living under the shadow of US imperialism.

The world is a much different place now and the political objectives of Bandung I have been more or less achieved. The same, however, cannot be said in terms of economic aspirations of the countries. Though much of Asia has made significant progress, Africa remains far behind. Notwithstanding the much-talked about South-South Cooperation, a large part of Asia became closer to Americas particularly through the APEC while Africa has moved closer to Europe through the Lome Convention (and Cotonou Agreement).

Meanwhile, the importance of South-South cooperation was recognised by the global community as a whole and the UN General Assembly established a UN Day for South-South cooperation (December 20). However, South-South cooperation received a new meaning in 1999, as the High-level Committee on the Review of Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries (TCDC), in its eleventh session resolved that South-South cooperation should be viewed as a complement and not a substitute for North-South co-operation. This effectively meant that the committee was of the view that a North-South-South cooperation was needed. Thus, came the recognition for the importance of trilateral development cooperation.

As recently as on 1-2 February 2005, the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the OECD and the UNDP jointly organised the Forum on Partnership for More Effective Development Co-operation at Paris to promote greater dialogue and mutual understanding among the world’s principal providers of development co-operation. The Forum brought together for the first time the members of the OCED with a wide range of non-OECD governments and institutions involved in development co-operation and South-South initiatives. The Forum agreed that South-South and triangular co-operation could improve the aid efficiency and effectiveness in emphasising ownership and inclusive partnership.

Trilateral cooperation does not necessarily mean involvement of three partners only. It is a kind of partnership where three or three groups of actors are involved: donors, technical assistance providers and the recipients. This form of cooperation got extended when some developed country donors started involving agencies and experts from other developing countries. This was done through both involvement of other developing country government or that of private or non-governmental organisations. CUTS International, an India-based NGO is engaged in capacity building on trade, competition, consumer protection and investment issues in several developing countries under the trilateral cooperation framework. A recent example of such a cooperation is the CUTS project in Africa involving capacity building on competition and regulatory issues in seven countries of the region. The project is being supported by the Norwegian and British governments.

Bilateral assistance programmes have very often been criticised for its tied nature by which aid is tied to the donor country’s provision of goods and services. Another issue related to tied aid is that when the donors tie up with local (donor’s home country) technical assistance providers, there is a possibility that monitoring by the donors may get relaxed as they are likely to develop alliance. A third country provider of technical assistance is far less likely to develop such a relationship with a donor and hence monitoring is likely to be more rigorous. Hence, trilateralisation may bring more accountability in the implementation of development programmes.

It is well recognised now that importing technologies or policies or legal practices from developed countries may not be appropriate for most developing countries. It may be better for them to draw these from countries that are developing but yet at an advanced stage than they are at. In fact ignoring this has cost many developing countries, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa dearly as they implemented the Washington Consensus agenda. Trilateral cooperation can be an effective way of bringing “appropriate intermediate technology” and “appropriate policy” to developing countries while taking the help of developed countries in meeting the financial resource need.

However, the issue of trilateralisation of development cooperation has not received adequate attention in Bandung II. This may be due to the fact that the leaders were too overwhelmed by the spirit of Bandung I when the global reality was quite different. Despite the fact that big Asian countries like China and India taking significant stride in providing aid to other developing countries, the need for assistance from the developed countries cannot be ignored as they themselves are struggling with poverty. Moreover, under the Millennium Development Goals, the international community including the developed countries has accepted that the removal poverty is a global responsibility. One important departure in Bandung II was, however, the fact that the role of all stakeholders in South-South cooperation has been explicitly recognised as against Bandung I when only government level cooperation was envisaged.