A preliminary analysis of the response of multilateralism and international, South-South and Triangular Cooperation to the COVID-19 crisis.
The global crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic demands a global response, for which multilateralism and international cooperation are essential. A first approach to this response is outlined in the paper Innovative instruments, financial, South-South and Triangular Cooperation, prepared by Cristina Xalma and Martín Rivero, of SEGIB’s Social Cohesion and South-South Cooperation Area, and published by Fundación Carolina.
To this end, the document reviews the context at the multilateral level between March 2020 and 2021, an exercise that sheds light on how international organizations promoted the response to the pandemic as well as on how the narrative of this response has evolved. In addition, throughout the paper, it is possible to identify the instruments through which it has been implemented, especially focusing on the role international cooperation may have played.
First, the document notes that, at the beginning of the pandemic, the different multilateral fora focused their action on the emergency response and on the required coordination. Gradually, their attention shifted to analyze the economic and social impact of COVID-19 and how to mitigate its effects. The promotion of vaccination plans enabled the debate to advance to the post-pandemic recovery, which must be inclusive and sustainable in line with the 2030 Agenda. During this process, it was also possible to draw some lessons for the prevention of future pandemics.
In Latin-America and the Caribbean (LAC), these debates had their own particularities, due to specific characteristics of the region’s context, such as the need to overcome structural inequalities which were intensified by COVID-19 (ECLAC), the access to vaccines (Community of Latin-American and Caribbean States, CELAC by its Spanish acronym), or the design of strategies for specific areas such as culture and higher education (SEGIB).
On the other hand, the paper analyzes different instruments to respond to COVID-19, and categorizes them according to whether they were promoted at the global level by the United Nations System and the G-20, by the European Union (EU) or if they were designed in LAC (for example, those within the framework of the Central-American Integration System, SICA by its Spanish acronym). These are all instruments of a different nature, which combine humanitarian aid, access to diagnostic tests, treatments and vaccines, the release of financial resources (including debt relief), and the promotion of economic and social reactivation, among others. SICA’s multidimensional Contingency Plan is a paradigmatic example of the aforementioned.
Last but not least, the document focuses on international cooperation as an instrument to support the response to the crisis. The pandemic broke out at a time when the development cooperation system was being heavily criticized for its lack of flexibility and its difficulty to adapt to what the 2030 Agenda required. According to the OECD (2020), the pandemic further exposed these liabilities. As data is not yet available, it is still difficult to understand the actual role international cooperation played in the response to the pandemic. However, some dynamics can already be perceived, and suggest many DAC donors have reallocated their budgets and promoted new funds, especially to focus more resources on the health sector and on emergency aid, as well as to channel them to multilateral agencies.
As for the role that South-South (SSC) and Triangular Cooperation (TC) can play, both modalities initially face the same challenge: although Ibero-America is the only region that has been systematically collecting data on these modalities for more than a decade, there are still no figures available for 2020. It also seems likely that, since SSC and TC usually focus on knowledge sharing initiatives that involve the mobilization of technical experts, many of the originally planned activities have been suspended or implemented online.
Given this context, the analysis rather focuses on lessons learnt and on their possible replication: in other words, the experience of previous years is reviewed from another perspective in order to identify the type of capacities that were strengthened and to understand if these capacities can contribute to a multidimensional, inclusive and sustainable response to COVID-19.
This exercise is carried out considering the 766 and 161 South-South and Triangular cooperation projects, respectively, which were implemented in Ibero-America in 2018 and 2019. The graph shows their distribution according to their potential contribution to the health, economic and social response which, in turn, is considered to be sustainable and that it contributes to improve those institutions that must be the backbone of all future action.
Graph. Bilateral South-South Cooperation and Triangular Cooperation projects, according to their potential contribution to a multidimensional response to the COVID-19 crisis. Ibero-America, 2018-2019. In units.
Source: SEGIB based on Agencies and Directorates-General for Cooperation
These initiatives contributed, for example, to strengthen capacities that have proven to be key to respond to the crisis and which can be replicated, such as the strengthening of health and epidemiological surveillance systems, control of communicable diseases (with special emphasis on those of zoonotic origin), management of other epidemics (zika, chikungunya, dengue, yellow fever…); promotion of telemedicine; digitization of education; universalization of transfer and subsidy programs; social protection policies, especially for the most vulnerable, and other economic policies (price and supply, support for companies and employment); as well as experiences to fight climate change and mitigate its worst effects, to name only a few of the lessons that can be drawn and that can be replicated in the management and response cycle of a crisis such as the one caused by COVID-19.
In light of the above, the challenge is now to figure out how to take advantage of all these lessons so that present South-South and Triangular Cooperation contributes not only to overcome the current situation but also to prevent future crises.