Brazil’s development cooperation with the South: a global model in waiting

Lidia Cabral
Lidia Cabral
21 July 2010
Articles and blogs
Current debates on South-South cooperation (SSC) and its effectiveness are marked by the absence of some of the most prominent providers of financial and technical assistance to the South. Brazil is a case in point. But is the country ready to engage with such debates?

SSC was on the agenda at the UN Development Cooperation Forum , held last month in New York. The Task Team on South-South Cooperation hosted a side event to discuss synergies between the aid effectiveness principles and the practice of SSC. Derived from the Accra Agenda for Action's commitment for inclusive partnerships, the Task Team is hosted by the OECD-DAC and brings together a range of governmental and non-governmental stakeholders from North and South. Before New York, the Team had gathered earlier this year in Bogotá at the High Level Event on South-South Cooperation and Capacity Development, which generated the Bogotá Statement, a key milestone in SSC dialogue leading up to the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, to take place in Seoul in 2011. The Statement stresses the need to build up evidence-based analysis on SSC, strengthen global dialogue on development and promote links between SSC practices and the aid effectiveness principles, as advocated by the Paris and Accra High Level Forums.

What is striking about this presumably Southern-led dialogue is the absence of the large emerging economies, which are rapidly gaining weight in international development cooperation, including Brazil, China, India and Saudi Arabia. It is remarkable that none of these countries, which, according to an ECOSOC study, together account for more than half of net bilateral disbursements of Southern aid, are part of the Steering Committee of the High Level Event on SSC. Brazil, in particular, has shown reluctance to engage with debates it perceives as unbalanced and dominated by the views and standards of Northern nations. Yet, the South-South debate, and its links with the aid effectiveness agenda, cannot meaningfully advance without the big players.

Understanding development cooperation models, practices and motivations of some of these large emerging economies is a tall order. There are considerable knowledge gaps, not only because of the relative novelty of their aid programmes but also, and perhaps more significantly, because of the poor records of transparency and accountability that characterise them. This is gradually changing. Literature on China and India is building up and Brazil is increasingly in the spotlight, partly due to its incumbent President's vigorous foreign policy.

A recent ODI study looks at Brazilian development cooperation in detail. The study, overseen by the Brazilian Cooperation Agency, ABC, and sponsored by the UK Department for International Development, analyses drivers, mechanics and future prospects of the country's technical cooperation with developing countries.

The study notes Brazil's increasing prominence in international affairs, which, over recent years, has been reflected in an unprecedented increase in resources to technical cooperation with the South. The country is, as result, gradually switching from a position of recipient to a position of provider of development assistance. Although Brazil is still a relatively small player, compared to giants like India and China, it is a source of world-leading technical expertise across a range of areas of great relevance to developing countries' development processes. Examples include agriculture (e.g. agricultural research), health (e.g. antiretroviral treatment) and social protection (e.g. Bolsa Família, the world's largest conditional cash transfers programme). Comparative advantages of Brazilian cooperation are also derived from regional ties with Latin America and cultural and historical affinities with the African continent.

Foreign policy is the major driver of Brazilian SSC and it has shaped the focus and geographical location of technical cooperation. Africa is currently a top destination, particularly Portuguese-speaking countries. Nonetheless, technical cooperation is increasingly diversified in terms of country coverage, cooperation modalities used and thematic focus. Demand for Brazilian cooperation is rising quickly and ABC, the country's coordination body for technical cooperation, is being led to adjust at the same pace. Its budget has more than tripled over the past couple of years. Other Brazilian institutions are increasingly involved in technical cooperation, operating in coordination with ABC or, in some cases, through separate arrangements.

Brazil's development cooperation potentially offers great value to SSC, not only for the technical expertise it can provide across a range of areas but also for its cultural and historical ties with the South which are increasingly reinforced by the country's determined economic and foreign policy agenda. But there is still some way to go before the country can be seen as a reference in development cooperation, which could complement, enhance or even challenge the currently dominant paradigm.

Firstly, the absence of specific legislation regulating cooperation provided by Brazilian public sector institutions to developing countries and the lack of autonomy of ABC are institutional hurdles that need to be urgently addressed. In particular, the model of development cooperation agency needs revisiting and options beyond the current exclusive focus on coordination of technical cooperation should be considered. The debate should be open to all relevant players and informed by in-depth analyses of other agency models, drawing on experiences from both North and South. Crucially, beneficiary countries' perspectives on relevance, value added and effectiveness of Brazilian technical cooperation ought to be taken into account.

Secondly, operational effectiveness could be significantly enhanced if expertise gaps and fragilities in the areas of M&E, knowledge management and stakeholder coordination were addressed. Strengthening the analytical basis of cooperation policy and practice by linking Brazil's field experiences and best practice with global debates on international development should be the basis for building a more vigorous engagement with international debates on development, both on themes Brazil has already gained high reputation and on other topical issues such as SSC, trilateral cooperation and aid effectiveness.

Before these gaps are addressed, Brazil's development cooperation is likely to remain, as The Economist has recently put it, a global model in waiting.

Lidia Cabral