Author : Sebastian Paulo

Occasional PapersPublished on Aug 10, 2023 PDF Download
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India as a partner in triangular development cooperation: Prospects for the India-UK partnership for global development

  • Sebastian Paulo

    riangular cooperation is a growing trend in India’s global engagement. The term refers to development cooperation in which traditional aid donors work together with Southern partners to address challenges in developing countries. Largely absent from this type of cooperation in the past, India has gradually become a more visible partner. The current government’s endorsement of triangular cooperation in joint statements with key partners, as well as high-profile initiatives such as the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor underline India’s motivation to play a more active role. This paper analyses India’s approach to triangular cooperation. It focuses on the India-United Kingdom partnership for global development, which has been shaping an innovative model for India’s participation in triangular cooperation in the past years. India’s growing interest in this modality provides momentum to move this relationship forward. India-UK cooperation could open up new opportunities in the context of India’s thriving partnership with the African continent.

I. Introduction

Triangular cooperation has been gaining relevance against the background of major shifts in the global development landscape. The changing role of rising powers and other middle-income countries (MICs) as development partners has contributed to a growing diversity of development cooperation approaches. In this context, triangular cooperation has gained momentum as a modality that promises to build bridges and create synergies between North-South and South-South cooperation. Although understandings of the term “triangular cooperation” vary, it generally refers to projects and other initiatives that combine the comparative advantages of traditional donors and South-South cooperation to share knowledge and address challenges among developing countries.[1]

Current analysis of the growing global practice of triangular cooperation has given little attention to India’s role as a partner. India’s preference for bilateral action within the framework of South-South cooperation has long prevented a stronger engagement. However, India’s reluctance to participate in triangular cooperation has given way to more openness for alternative partnerships. India has shown leadership in shaping United Nations (UN)- managed triangular funds to support South- South cooperation, such as the IBSA (India- Brazil-South Africa) Fund. Moreover, various types of Indian partners have increasingly cooperated with traditional bilateral donors from the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD/DAC), such as the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US), to implement projects in developing countries. The Indo-Japanese plan for an Asia- Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) signals growing levels of ambition to work in triangular partnerships.

The UK has been a key partner for India’s growing engagement in triangular cooperation, having brokered partnerships with a broad range of actors from India and other developing countries. Examples of India-UK cooperation in third countries include the “Global Research Partnership on Food and Nutrition Security, Health and Women” and the South-South aid- for-trade programme “Supporting Indian Trade
and Investment for Africa” (SITA). In November 2015, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) signed the “Statement of Intent on Partnership for Cooperation in Third Countries”.The statement reaffirms the two countries’ commitment to deepen their cooperation in developing countries.

Against the background of India’s growing role as a partner in triangular cooperation, this paper aims to contribute to the understanding of India’s approach to this modality. The focus is especially on the India-UK partnership for global development as a relationship that has been instrumental in shaping India’s involvement in triangular cooperation in the past years. The paper analyses the current practice of India-UK cooperation in third countries and discusses the prospects for moving this partnership forward. To this end, the paper puts triangular cooperation in the context of India’s thriving relations with African countries.

The paper opens with an overview of the concept of triangular cooperation. The subsequent section presents the contours of India’s approach to triangular cooperation and discusses India’s motivations for engaging in this modality. The fourth section takes stock of the experiences with India-UK cooperation in third countries and identifies key features that have emerged from this relationship. Finally, the paper discusses to what extent triangular cooperation fits into the context of the India- Africa partnership. The conclusion highlights recommendations for the future of India-UK cooperation. The paper draws on the academic and policy literature on triangular cooperation, other documents, and interviews.[2]

II. Triangular Cooperation: An Overview

What is triangular cooperation?

As a modality to support technical cooperation among developing countries, triangular cooperation has existed for several decades. Despite this long history, however, interest in this modality has surged only recently against the background of the increasing importance of providers of development cooperation outside the group of rich, industrialised countries organised in the OECD/DAC (hereafter referred to as “traditional donors”).3 Given differences in norms, principles and approaches, the current development landscape often tends to be seen as being split between “North-South” and “South-South” cooperation. Triangular cooperation is the most visible sign that this more complex, fragmented and multipolar development landscape also consists of cooperation across traditional divides. In this context, triangular cooperation serves as a “modality that transcends divides between north-south and south-south cooperation and combines the comparative advantages of different partners by making use of complementary strengths to create synergies.”4

Beyond this understanding, a commonly shared definition of triangular cooperation does not exist. The search for a definition is further complicated by the use of different terminologies, with “triangular” and “trilateral” cooperation being the most common labels. This paper uses the term “triangular”, as in the definitions of the UN and the OECD, without claiming a difference in meaning compared to other terms in use.

Some definitions stress the number of countries as the key feature, which would include cooperation among three developing or emerging countries. This paper, in contrast, draws on definitions that highlight the interaction of three different types of actors. The OECD defines triangular cooperation as involving at least one bilateral provider of development cooperation from the OECD/DAC (or an international organisation) and one or more providers of South-South cooperation “to promote a sharing of knowledge and experience or implement development cooperation projects in one or more beneficiary countries”.5

The UN defines triangular cooperation as “Southern-driven partnerships between two or more developing countries, supported by a developed country (or countries) or multilateral organization(s) to implement development cooperation programs or projects.”6

These definitions emphasise the combination of three different types of actors that assume roles based on their comparative advantages.7 First, rising powers or other MICs act as “pivotal countries” that provide cost- effective expertise, services or technology from their own development experience. Second, traditional bilateral and multilateral donors act as “facilitators” that help connect countries and partners to form a triangular partnership. In this role, they contribute funding as well as their experience and know-how of managing development cooperation. Moreover, they support triangular cooperation through their extensive networks of embassies and development agencies across the developing world. Finally, third (partner) countries, where the results of triangular cooperation are to be achieved, take ownership and ensure that results are sustainable. The three roles should not be seen as strictly separate as the sharing of knowledge and experience can benefit, in principle, all partners. Overall, it is useful not to consider triangular cooperation as a fixed template since it covers a broad space of different cooperation formats between bilateral cooperation, on the one hand, and multilateral cooperation, on the other.

Opportunities and challenges of triangular cooperation

According to an OECD survey, the use of triangular cooperation has substantially expanded across all world regions and sectors (with the majority of projects still concentrated in Latin America and the Caribbean).8 By now, all major international platforms with a mandate to shape international development cooperation – the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (GPEDC), the United Nations Development Cooperation Forum (UN-DCF) and the OECD/DAC – endorse and support triangular cooperation as a complementary modality. The relevance of triangular cooperation has further increased as part of the “means of implementation” for the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG 17 stresses the role of triangular cooperation for the sharing of knowledge and technology as well as capacity
funding, management capacity and country presence. Shared linguistic, cultural and historical ties between Southern partners might also contribute to a conducive environment for cooperation. At the same time, triangular cooperation comes with challenges that could undermine effectiveness. The literature typically highlights three main types of challenges: transaction costs, limited ownership and fragmentation.

First, triangular cooperation is more complex in terms of coordination than bilateral and multilateral cooperation, which work on the basis of established structures. Triangular cooperation requires coordination among three or more countries, possibly including several partner organisations within each country. The modality is therefore more demanding in setting up and aligning the required institutional, legal and financial processes and structures as well as the availability of capacity and staff. Moreover, participating countries need to ensure the compatibility of technical and operational aspects, for instance the organisation of work at field level and building.9
The Addis Ababa Action Agenda evaluation techniques. As a result, effective (AAAA) of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development highlights triangular cooperation “as a means of bringing relevant experience and expertise to bear in development cooperation.”10

Triangular cooperation is associated with both opportunities and risks for t h e effectiveness of development cooperation. The case for increased effectiveness is based on the expected benefits of combining the comparative advantages of different types of actors. The main argument is that the modality combines access to affordable and relevant development solutions from Southern partners with the strengths of traditional donors, including implementation requires clarity about objectives and a clear division of roles.11

Second, the effectiveness of triangular cooperation might suffer from a lack of ownership in third countries. One of the expected benefits of triangular cooperation is to transform existing patterns of development cooperation into more horizontal partnerships by bringing pivotal countries into the equation. However, triangular cooperation runs the risk of falling short of creating genuinely horizontal partnerships. The relationship between traditional donor and pivotal country often dominates the partnership.12 Lack of ownership and insufficient use of country systems risk undermining effectiveness. It is therefore not surprising that the majority of triangular cooperation projects has been implemented in MICs as third countries, which have the necessary capacity to assume ownership of complex partnerships.

Finally, triangular cooperation has always struggled with the reputation of consisting mainly of relatively small and scattered projects in the form of training, dispatching experts, influence over South-South cooperation.15 The modality is indeed a component of traditional donors’s trategies to transform their relationships with rising powers and other MICs. As bilateral country programmes with more advanced developing countries are being phased out, traditional donors search for new ways to stay engaged with these key partners. In this context, they position themselves in new roles, moving from being mainly providers of aid to being brokers of partnerships that address exchange visits, capacity building and human resource development.13 High numbers of small global issues of mutual interest.16
Traditional projects contribute to the fragmentation of development cooperation. The aforementioned OECD survey notes a trend towards increases in the average size and duration of projects. According to the survey, triangular cooperation could be moving from an “international testing phase”, characterised by small and scattered activities, into a more mature phase of donors also see triangular cooperation as a
means to bring about a convergence of norms and practices and integrate Southern partners into the established international architecture of development cooperation.

Given concerns over Northern domination of triangular cooperation, some Southern partners, wary of being co-opted or “socialised” expansion and consolidation.14

However, the into existing patterns of development image of triangular cooperation as being rather small-scale has not become entirely obsolete and fragmentation remains a challenge. For instance, the survey indicates that the budget of 74 percent of reported projects was less than US$1 million.

Why do countries engage in triangular cooperation?

Triangular cooperation requires that all actors have a clear motivation for setting up new approaches to cooperation. Otherwise, they could use existing structures for bilateral and multilateral cooperation. Apart from the shared objective to promote development, actors follow different motivations. Sceptics argue that the incentives are skewed towards traditional donors and less clear for Southern partners.

Triangular cooperation is sometimes seen critically as a way to safeguard Northern cooperation and limited to the role of cheap contractors, have remained reluctant partners. According to some observers, such concerns about equal partnership might explain the long absence of major Southern players, especially China and India, from triangular cooperation.17 A key question for the effectiveness is thus not only who participates, but who leads the triangular partnership. Effective triangular cooperation therefore requires careful design as a Southern-led partnership.

Apart from these concerns, Southern partners have their own motivations for joining triangular cooperation.18 Partner countries value access to experience and solutions from pivotal countries with similar development contexts. For pivotal countries, triangular cooperation can be an option to address rapidly growing demand from other developing countries for knowledge sharing and expertise. Working together with 
other international actors can add capacity to their development cooperation. Southern partners also draw on triangular cooperation to advance their own evolving development cooperation architectures. In this regard, they might consider triangular cooperation as a way to acquire more international recognition as development partners. Ultimately, however, motivations to engage in triangular cooperation relate to broader foreign policy considerations that vary across countries.

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Sebastian Paulo

Sebastian Paulo