Briefing note: What are South-South and Triangular Cooperation?

South-South Cooperation (SSC) and Triangular Cooperation (TC) are emerging forms of aid architecture far from the traditional “North-South” model. CSOs are playing an important role in strengthening South-South cooperation.

The Third High Level Forum HLF3 on Aid Effectiveness affirms that (§ 19.d): South-South cooperation on development aims to observe the principle of non-interference in internal affairs, equality among developing partners and respect for their independence, national sovereignty, cultural diversity and identity and local content. It plays an important role in international development cooperation and is a valuable complement to North-South cooperation.

South-South Cooperation can be defined as an exchange of knowledge and resources in the political, economic, social, cultural, environmental or technical domain, between governments, organizations, and individuals in developing nations. It can take place on a bilateral, regional, subregional or interregional basis and can involve two or more developing countries.

SSC, based on the attainment of internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals, is meant to strengthen developing countries’ voice and their bargaining power in multilateral negotiations. It also gives them the opportunity to promote self-sufficiency among them and strengthen their economic ties.

However, despite the fact that SSC can be more sustainable than traditional North-South cooperation allowing better adaptation to the country situation, in practice there is still no shared understanding on the very nature and goals of SSC. This is true on the basis of the various and sometimes divergent “interpretations” on SSC given by both emerging economies and developed countries. Some argue that South-South Cooperation should not be seen as a substitute for, rather a complement to North-South cooperation, while others argue that the two models can’t be placed on an equal footing.

Finally, Triangular Cooperation (TC) involves two or more developing countries in collaboration with a third party, typically a developed country government or organization, contributing to the exchanges with its own knowledge and resources.

Find below a list of sources for further background.

Actors involved in the process

- UN

The UNDP Special Unit for South-South Cooperation (SU/SSC) was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1978. Hosted in UNDP, its primary mandate is to promote, coordinate and support South-South and Triangular Cooperation on a global and UN system-wide basis.

The Special Unit receives policy directives and guidance from the General Assembly High-Level Committee on South-South Cooperation (HLC) which is a committee of the whole and a subsidiary body of the GA that reviews world-wide progress in South-South Cooperation.
The Special Unit prepares all substantive reports including the report to the Secretary General on the state of South-South Cooperation. It also organizes the GA-proclaimed United Nations Day for South-South Cooperation celebrated annually on December 19th.

Several other bodies of the UN like ILO, ECOSOC, UNDP, UNDCF or the World Bank have been actively encouraging and contributing in SSC.

ILO: the programme and budget for 2012-2013 adopted by the International Labour Conference at its 100th session (2011), place particular emphasis on SSC as a means of achieving the Organization’s objectives. SSC involves initiatives in the social, economic, environmental, technical and political fields, and in this perspective it can be a useful tool to engage social partners from developing countries to promote the Decent Work Agenda through development cooperation. The orientations of SSC, including respect for national autonomy and priorities, the diversity of circumstances and solutions, and solidarity among nations, converge with the approach of the ILO’s Decent Work Agenda.

The ILO has already been engaged in triangular arrangements in the agreement between the United States and Brazil to support Haiti in combating child labour in the construction sector, as well as the South-South cooperation agreement between China and ILO signed in 2012. The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security of the People’s Republic of China will assist developing countries in Asia promote full employment and decent work, through innovative technical cooperation projects that will facilitate the dissemination of good practices.

UNDCF: SSC has been an important topic for the UNDCF since its creation; it was one of the key trends addressed by the 2010 and 2012 DCF. In 2008, DCF published a report entitled “Background Study for the Development Cooperation Forum – Trends in South-South and Triangular Development Cooperation”.

- The OECD Development Co-operation Directorate (DCD-DAC)

A Task Team on South-South Cooperation (TT-SSC) was established 2008 after the Third High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Accra, Ghana, in response to the acknowledgement of the importance of new providers of development resources.

The TT-SSC is a southern-led platform hosted by the Working Party on Aid Effectiveness (WP-EFF) at the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC). The TT-SSC is co-chaired by Colombia and Indonesia with active support from the World Bank Institute and regional platforms in Asia, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean.
The TT-SSC brings partner countries, especially middle income countries, donors, civil society, academia, regional and multilateral agencies together under a common objective of mapping, documenting, analysing and discussing evidence on the synergies between the principles of aid effectiveness and the practice of South-South Cooperation.

SSC was also a topic discussed on the occasion of the 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan (2011). The Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation reaffirms the importance of the SSC: “South-South and triangular co-operation have the potential to transform developing countries’ policies and approaches to service delivery by bringing effective, locally owned solutions that are appropriate to country contexts” (§30).

The South-South Opportunity is a community of professionals dedicated to South-South Cooperation, knowledge exchange and learning for development.

CSOs in action

CSOs are also involved in implementing the South-South Cooperation. Many trade unions have integrated South-South Cooperation and Triangular Cooperation in their development programmes.
The Trade Union Seminar on South-South and Triangular Cooperation will take place in Florianopolis (Brazil) from August 28 to 30. It’ll be organised in cooperation with the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas and the Brazilian trade union movement.

The objectives are to define political and practical positions with respect to “official” South-South cooperation and exchanging on practices and challenges for the trade union South-South and Triangular Cooperation.


- The state of South-South cooperation – Report of the Secretary-General(2011)
- Framework of operational guidelines on United Nations support to South-South and triangular cooperation – Note by the Secretary-General (2012) (English, French, Spanish)
- Promotion of South-South cooperation for development: a thirty-year perspective – Report of the Secretary-General (2009) (English, French, Spanish)
- Bogota High Level Event on South-South Cooperation and Capacity Development – Bogota Statement – Towards Effective and Inclusive Development Partnerships (2010)
- Website of the Special Unit for South-South Cooperation
- Website of the South-South Opportunity
- Website of the Task Team on South-South Cooperation
- Website of ILO – South-South and Triangular Cooperation

Article par Marion Levillain, RSCD/ITUC