Guancha: Mr Correa, could you briefly describe to our viewers the work that South Centre does?
Correa: The South Centre is an intergovernmental organization. We have 55 members. The South Centre aims at providing policy-oriented research for developing countries to develop national, regional policies, which are adequate for the development efforts they undertake. And also very importantly, the South Centre provides support to developing countries to engage in international negotiations in different areas: trade, investment intellectual property, health, etc. This is a very important role that we play. In addition to this, we also try to enhance the capacity of our countries in dealing with some important issues, some of them I've just mentioned. So we do trainings and capacity building; taxation for instance became a very important issue for the South Centre in recent times in this regard.
Guancha: What would you say has been the greatest accomplishment of South Centre recently?
Correa: The South Centre has been able to help developing countries act together. In many instances, developing countries individually cannot influence the outcomes of international negotiations, therefore our role is to provide a platform for developing countries to discuss and understand their different interests. The ambition certainly is for us to get common positions in order to counterbalance the power of industrialized countries in many fora. I think this is an important achievement of the South Centre in many areas in which we have been able to support developing countries, by providing inputs for their participation in order for them to do tit in a more informed manner and influence the outcomes. We have done a lot of policy oriented research in many areas, which is being used by our countries as well. And when we look at the readership of our documents and books, we are very satisfied with the number of downloads. This an indicator of the impact that our publication have in addressing these issues which are so relevant for developing countries.
Guancha: Administratively, how does South Centre handle all the work it is conducting? How do you prioritize?
Correa: Our priorities are defined by the board of the South Centre, which elaborates every 3 years our work program, and they are also defined by the members of the South Centre, who meet once a year in the Council of Representatives. Both the Board and the Council decide what are the priorities for developing countries. Of course, these priorities change over time. For instance, climate change has become a major issue. Finance for development continues to be an important subject. Trade and development is also a challenging matter, including the relationship between trade and environment.
Hence, the priorities change over time. The South Centre is member driven. We have very close contact with ambassadors and delegations here in Geneva. We try to understand what the demands are, what the subjects of relevance are, and then we work on them. We try to satisfy this demand and be able to operate in a manner which is dynamic and adapted to the circumstances at every time. For instance, during Covid-19, the South Centre did a lot of work in understanding what the situation was in terms of inequity in distribution of vaccines, how it could be solved, how manufacturing capacity could be enhanced in developing countries. This is one example of adaptation to the needs of developing countries at a certain point.
Guancha: You say that you are satisfied with the current reach of your reports, but how do you think you can further improve this reach and influence?
Correa: We are never fully satisfied, we understand that we can do more and that we can improve. We also need more engagement from our members. Because we're working in Geneva, we have close contact with Geneva delegations. An important objective for us is also to reach the capitals, for them to know what we are doing, what kind of analysis we are conducting, in order for them to be able eventually to benefit from that. It's also very important for us to have the feedback from the capitals. In this regard, we have improved a lot based on a new communications policy implemented in the last few years, in terms of social media, and, as I mentioned, also dissemination of our publications. But there is room for improvement, hopefully with the support of our members and eventually new members; we are also looking for new developing countries to join the Centre. We hope that our role can be more impactful in the future.
Guancha: There are an increasing number of organizations, fora and international bodies that purport to represent the interest of developing countries and their perspective. What would you say sets South Centre apart from those other organizations?
Correa: As I mentioned, the South Centre is an intergovernmental organization. Unlike some other organizations, particularly non-government organizations, we do not have our own agenda. Our agenda is the agenda of developing countries. This organization has been created by developing countries, it works for them, is owned by the member countries, so this is perhaps one important difference. We are very sensitive, as I mentioned before, to the demands, to the interest that may change over time, and we try to respond to them; this may be a major difference with other organizations. The fact is that, as an intergovernmental organization, we deal with government delegations here or from their capitals, and this is our main audience. Of course, we also have relationships with scholars, with NGOs, civil society, and these are very important, but our main addressees are governments, in particular those who are involved in international negotiations in Geneva, as well as in New York or in Vienna in some cases.
Guancha: What would you say are the most pressing challenges facing developing countries right now?
Correa: Well, there are many. As we know, addressing the issue of climate change is a major challenge. Getting finance to implement policies in particular for adaptation is a particularly challenging. In recovering from Covid-19, addressing the financial situation and debt is a major problem, as many of our countries are indebted very heavily, in particular, low income and some middle income countries. The reform of the international financial architecture is a major issue; developing countries do need to work in that direction in order to ensure that this very significant problem is solved. Of course, there are other challenges, in terms of negotiations in WTO for instance. A reforms of WTO is being proposed by developed countries, and we certainly need an agenda from developing countries, so that this organization addresses the development needs and trade deals in a non-discriminatory manner.
Guancha: What do you think would be a viable path for reforming the international financial architecture? This is quite topical recently, because China is negotiating with some Paris Club countries about how Zambia's sovereign debt is going to be restructured. This is seen as a major landmark or a major indicator of how future negotiations might go.
Correa: I think that's an important step. We need the restructuring also of the international financial institutions, we need to give them a different approach. For instance, in relation to distribution of SDRs, they have not reached the countries that actually need them.
We need to look at the dominance of the US dollar, which also is hurting many developing countries, as can be seen now with the depreciation of the currencies of many. This is a major challenge for developing countries on which they really need to work together, in order to be effective in changing the system. This is a major need for our countries to reform. A key factor of dependency of our countries is the financial system as it is today. And this needs to be changed.
Guancha: What are some of the practical proposals that you're looking into for either debt restructuring or de-dollarization?
Correa: Both of them. Debt restructuring is very important. We need to find the framework in order to do this in a manner that will help developing countries to overcome the current situation. The issue of de-dollarization is something that is coming, and we need to be prepared and to develop alternatives for that.
Guancha: What are some ways or proposals for achieving these 2 goals that seem practical, right now?
Correa: Well, we still need to develop this in a manner that a significant number of developing countries join the efforts. As I mentioned, the possibility of de-dollarization is one which is foreseeable in the future, in the case of China, for instance, now with the use of yuan, also in the case of the currency of India, which is being used in many other countries. There have been some discussions in the context of Latin America also to develop a common currency to engage in trade. These initiatives are quite important, and this may be one of the basis for changing the current system, which is not supportive of development efforts of our countries.
Guancha: Previously, you had worked as an adviser on trade and intellectual property at the South Centre, which seems particularly relevant right now, both as intellectual property rights can sometimes hinder development, but also as talk of the decoupling has led to both China and the US working on securing their own trade and IP networks around the world. In light of this, what are some reforms that can be made on a global level?
Correa: There is an agreement in the WTO, the TRIPS agreement, that has established minimum standards for intellectual property. Of course, one objective may be to look again at this agreement, which is quite clearly not working in favor of developing countries, in particular in some areas such as medicines or vaccines. However, this may be a difficult objective to achieve given that developed countries are very eager to protect the system and the intellectual property that they generate. Therefore, what we have as an alternative is to work for the time being within the system, but to use to the full extent possible the policy space which is allowed by the international system today. And there is a lot of room to do this in many countries. many developing countries have not used to the full these flexibilities in terms of, for instance, developing rigorous requirements for the grant of patents that will avoid the use of strategies by companies to keep monopolies without actually producing innovation. This is a very important issue in some areas, such as in the area of plants and medicines.
There are other measures that can be adopted. For instance, in relation to limitations and exceptions for copyrights, we are working now with African countries to expand the public domain, increase the access to educational materials and research materials, and promote and allow research on the basis of digital information. All these are things that can be done. To the extent that national and regional policies are adapted, they should pursue this objective of using the policy space which is available today in the context of the international system.
Guancha: Recently there has been increased talk of decoupling and confrontation on the global stage. Key to this seems to be America's desire to see all countries adopt a more western model of democracy, of governance, while China believes that development should be or is the most important democratic right of the people. What do you think of these competing narratives?
Correa: Certainly, I think that development is key, and this is one of the reasons why we promote very actively the right to development. Such a declaration has already been adopted, now some discussions are taking place to develop a legally binding instrument on the right to development. But certainly, one important principle of international law is no interference, is to leave each country the freedom to define its own strategy of development. Any attempt to modify or to influence this is something that, in our view, is not acceptable. Every country has the right to determine what development strategy it will follow. And in some cases, we know they will follow strategies that are not based on the western model with great success. China, of course, is a major example.
Thus, we think that the attempts by the United States to model the whole world cannot be in any way supported. We need to leave countries the freedom to make their own choices. And of course, we are very much concerned about the measures that United States is taking today to ban transfer of technology and equipment to China and other countries on the argument of national security, which is a very vague argument. Clearly, they want to stop the technological catching up of other countries. They want to remain as the technological leaders. What we need in the world is cooperation and solidarity, and not trying to stop progress of other countries. Certainly, we are very much concerned about these trends, support developing countries' efforts to find their own strategy for development and counter these influence measures.