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The rise of the Global South

Professor Chris Alden is Head of the Global South Unit at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

The rise of emerging economies, led by a resurgent China, is in the process of transforming the world’s political and economy geometry.

New forms of engagement, ranging from the state-led capitalism of Asian economies to the conduct of market-savvy Southern multinationals, are replacing the once dominant North-South aid and investment model.

As well as entering new markets and promoting financial flows to the South, the countries and businesses driving this process are introducing norms and practices that are reshaping – or aim to reshape – the institutions of global governance.

At the heart of this global transformation is the phenomenon known as South-South cooperation. South-South cooperation originally formed part of a larger response by developing countries to the destabilising politics of the Cold War.

It demonstrated aspirations for development untainted by ideological struggle, and acknowledged that economic relations between developing countries would be crucial to achieving these aims.

Sixty years later, with the rise of China, India and Brazil, and the economic problems facing Western donor countries, South-South Cooperation was formally recognized by the OECD-DAC in late 2011 as a dynamic form of economic cooperation that has contributed to rapid transformation in the developing world.

It is far from homogenous in its patterns, and each emerging economy – be they a BRICS, a CIVETS or, the latest acronym, a MINT country – operates in very different ways.[1]

For regions like Latin America, being both significant players in key sectors of the global economy as well as recipients of outside investment is crucial to understanding the challenges it faces in the coming decades.

Mexico, for instance, is embarking on a radical restructuring of its energy sector that aims to open up investment opportunities, enhance its global competitiveness and ultimately raise the standard of living of its population; Brazilian agricultural interests are bringing their resources and technical assistance to Africa with the aim of developing a robust commercialising farming sector; and Chinese investment is poised to revitalise the antiquated transport networks found in parts of Latin America.

In the process, these same conventions which guide South-South cooperation are coming under closer scrutiny as Latin Americans adapt to the realities of the multi-varied actors, approaches and experiences that characterise this mode of economic partnership.

The hope created by accessing ‘like-minded’ emerging-country financial resources and capabilities is balanced against what some are decrying as mercantilist tendencies.

It goes without saying that Southern investment can, contrary to the rhetoric, be as narrowly construed and even anti-development as other traditional sources have been.

At the same time, engagement between South partners can be inspirational in ways that elude North-South relations: Mexican reforms are stimulating debate in Delhi about how to emulate President Enrique Pena Nieto’ ‘Pacto por Mexico’ to break the political gridlock in India. Beyond the national development implications of South-South cooperation, global issues such as climate change are increasingly going to be defined by these development choices made by the countries of the South and their respective partnerships.

The rise of the Global South brings with it possibilities for accelerated development for neglected populations and an opportunity to broaden the responsibilities for management of pressing problems plaguing the contemporary world.

By actively engaging with emerging economies from Asia, Africa and elsewhere, regions like Latin America will be in a better position to contribute to and ultimately shape the global agenda for the 21st century.

[1] The BRICS are Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa; the CIVETS: Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey, and South Africa; MINTs are Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey.