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Aid effectiveness

Trilateral cooperation makes sense

by Harald Leibrecht

In depth

Major emerging-market nations have the resources to tackle their own poverty problems, but they often fail to do so: indigenous malaria patient in Brazil

Major emerging-market nations have the resources to tackle their own poverty problems, but they often fail to do so: indigenous malaria patient in Brazil

Empirical evidence shows that cooperation between industrial and emerging-market nations is a useful way to support the world’s least developed countries. Such projects contribute to capacity building in all countries involved and help consolidate principles such as democracy and public participation. By Harald Leibrecht

Emerging-market nations are increasingly important players on the world stage, and that is true of development cooperation too. China, India, South Africa, Mexico and Brazil have long been present as self-assured donors in less developed partner countries. Their activities have attracted some justified criticism, but it should not blind us to the opportunities on offer. For the benefit of all the parties involved – industrial, newly industrial­ising and developing nations alike – cooperation needs to become more effective.

One reason why cooperation with emerging-market nations is relevant is the drive to reduce global poverty in line with the Millennium Development Goals. Emerging-market nations suffer from serious poverty issues. According to the World Bank Group, they currently account for around half of all people living in absolute poverty.

Resource-rich emerging-market economies, moreover, contribute substantially to global climate change. Their economic and political influence extends beyond their own region. The major emerging-maket nations need to rise to their responsibility in the fight to combat hunger and environmental damage – both domestically and internationally.

China has been conducting economic cooperation with poor countries in Africa and other regions for a number of years. The primary motives for such cooperation are obviously to promote export interests and secure access to the commodities China needs to fuel its economy. China does not embrace the principles of democracy, rule of law or human rights. Moreover, experience in the West shows that many Chinese development projects, such as the construction of schools or hospitals, will not be sustainable because no steps are taken to ensure local ownership. Under these conditions, hospitals and schools cannot operate effectively because they will lack professional staff, appropriate equipment and/or other key resources.

Failure is foreseeable and regrettable. The resources invested could be used more effectively to really reduce poverty.

Against this backdrop, the industrial world should make more efforts to engage emerging-market nations in development policy. Trilateral programmes in which established OECD donors and “new” donors cooperate in support of least developed countries make sense, as has been confirmed by early empirical evidence.

Better hospital in Angola

One inspiring example is the shoring up of the Josina Machel Hospital in Angola, a project launched in April 2007 and completed in March 2010. Brazilian experts and Angolan physicians implemented it with support from the Japanese government and the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA). The goal was to improve local healthcare as well as medical training facilities. Thanks to this project, the standards of healthcare services, hospital administration and even equipment maintenance have risen significantly.

Japan and Brazil started trilateral ­cooperation back in 1985, when they launched what was called the Third Country Training Programme (TCTP). Re-named the Japan-Brazil Partnership Programme (JBPP) after the turn of the millennium, the two countries have used this platform to implement projects in a variety of ways. In the case of the Angolan hospital, the Japanese largely performed the task of coordinating and subsidising while the Brazilians played a controlling and supervisory role.

The measures taken were systematically geared to the needs of the Angolan partners. Priorities included
– the training of nurses and other healthcare professionals,
– management issues including maintenance,
– the setting up and upgrading of a laboratory and
– the establishment of a radiology unit.

It is obvious that big emerging-market nations have the economic resources to tackle their own poverty problems. Nonetheless, they often fail to do so. In this regard, trilateral cooperation projects could have a welcome indirect impact, because everyone involved in a project learns from colleagues and can later apply new skills and insights at home. Trilateral cooperation contributes to capacity development in the advanced and newly industrialising countries too.

Shared values are certainly a useful basis for such cooperation. Where relevant values are shared, any joint exercise will further consolidate principles of democracy and the rule of law. On the other hand, the exchange of views on these matters is particularly important when partners do not share European or North American ideas.

If it is possible to find common ground for development efforts in cooperation with a country like China, for instance, that will serve several goals at the same time. The industrial country involved can influence the parameters of engagement and thus foster issues like local ownership and public participation. Indirectly, this should help to convey fundamental values such as liberty, democracy and human rights. At the same time, successful trilateral cooperation programmes with a clearly defined division of labour are in line with the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness of 2005.

The main argument in favour of trilateral cooperation is that this is a sensible way to improve living standards in the least developed countries. Their welfare is certainly what matters most. At the same time, however, triangular arrangements provide a platform for donors in north and south to learn from one an­other, bundle their experience and adapt their individual strategies and techniques even better to the development needs of the relevant recipient country.

These conclusions were reached by the Task Team on South-South Cooperation (TT-SSC), which was set up by the OECD/DAC Working Group on Aid Effectiveness. In a profound analysis of various examples of triangular cooperation, the Task Team established that this approach makes sense. Trilateral development programmes should effectively supplement existing bilateral arrangements – and generate added value.