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ECOSOC COMMISSION: Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC)

The Economic and Social Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) is one of five regional commissions of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and represents countries in both Latin American and the Caribbean. ECLAC supports the economic development of its Member States by reinforcing economic relationships among its members and other countries of the world. It does so by promoting developmental cooperative activities and projects of regional and subregional scope, bringing a regional perspective to global problems and translating global concerns at the regional and subregional levels. ECLAC also has as one of its primary objectives the promotion of the region’s social development.

Members Members

  • Antigua & Barbuda
  • Argentina
  • Bahamas
  • Barbados
  • Belize
  • Bolivia
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • Chile
  • Colombia
  • Costa Rica
  • Cuba
  • Dominica
  • Dominican Republic
  • Ecuador
  • El Salvador
  • France
  • Germany
  • Grenada
  • Guatemala
  • Guyana
  • Haiti
  • Honduras
  • Italy
  • Jamaica
  • Japan
  • Mexico
  • Netherlands
  • Nicaragua
  • Norway
  • Panama
  • Paraguay
  • Peru
  • Portugal
  • Republic of Korea
  • Saint Lucia
  • Spain
  • Saint Kitts & Nevis
  • Saint Vincent & the Grenadines
  • Suriname
  • Trinidad & Tobago
  • Turkey
  • United Kingdom
  • United States of America
  • Uruguay
  • Venezuela

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Associate Members Associate Members

  • Anguilla (United Kingdom)
  • Aruba (Netherlands)
  • British Virgin Islands (United Kingdom)
  • Montserrat (United Kingdom)
  • Puerto Rico (United States of America)
  • Turks and Caicos Islands (United Kingdom)
  • United States Virgin Islands (United States of America)
  • Bermuda (UK)
  • Cayman Islands (UK)
  • Curacao (Netherlands)
  • Guadeloupe (France)
  • Martinique (France)
  • Sint Maarten
  • French Guiana

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Committee on South-South Cooperation Committee on South-South Cooperation

Development programs are often perceived as efforts where developed countries provide aid to developing countries, portraying them exclusively as a relationship between the Global North and Global South. These terms, “North” and “South,” differentiate the social, economic and political qualities between the developed countries (North) and developing countries (South). While the terms loosely correlate with geography, countries are defined as Northern or Southern not by their location but by those factors. South-South cooperation encourages the countries and peoples of the developing world to learn from each other and partner to enhance their collective development. This technical collaboration is a tool used by States, international organizations and civil society to share knowledge, skills and successful initiatives on matters like urbanization, climate change, agriculture and fighting corruption.

This concept gained momentum in the 1960s and 1970s as the international system expanded to include multiple newly-independent former colonies and developing countries. The international community adopted the Declaration on the Establishment of a New International Order in 1974, which acknowledged the historical legacies between many of these new Member States and the developed countries that built the global system. The Declaration envisioned a new economic system that respected States’ equal sovereignty, those States’ full and exclusive right to their natural resources, and a system of trade that not only provided aid to the developing world but also provided preferential access to resources for those developing States. That same year, the General Assembly endorsed the establishment of a special unit within the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to promote technical cooperation among developing countries (TCDC). TCDC was not a new concept, but these events were an acknowledgement by the international community that, in an era of interdependence and political and economic change, cooperation among States in the developing world would improve their ability to strategize and respond to the difficult economic and political environment of the time while promoting national and collective self-reliance.

The United Nations then held the Conference on Technical Co-operation among Developing Countries in 1978, which culminated in the Buenos Aires Plan of Action for Promoting and Implementing Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries (BAPA). The Plan of Action recommended 38 direct, national and regional actions to promote collaboration among least developed countries. One of those recommendations resulted in the creation of the High-level Committee on the Review of the Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries as a subsidiary body of the United Nations General Assembly.

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) also established its own body, the Committee on Cooperation among Developing Countries and Regions (CCDCR), in 1979. CCDCR held its first meeting in 1981; ECLAC remains to this day the only regional commission with a permanent intergovernmental body for South-South cooperation. Outside of the United Nations, the international community continued to promote TCDC in the 1980s, with the Group of 77 (G-77) adopting the Caracas Programme of Action (CPA) in 1981. The CPA not only promoted South-South cooperation and exchanges but also eventually resulted in a dedicated but modest trust fund to support related efforts, contributing over 12 million US dollars to support over 120 projects in its first 27 years.

While the international community touted some progress in the number of programs that incorporated TCDC through the 1980s and early 1990s, a 1995 review by the United Nations found funding and programmatic issues continued to hamper TCDC. The review cited competing development priorities, the entrenched nature of the international system and limited staff and resources as limiting the United Nations to efforts simply promoting TCDC instead of any major integration of the concepts into new and existing development programs as envisioned by the Declaration and BAPA. However, it recognized Latin America as a region of particular success, with the report noting the successful integration of technical cooperation within the region’s bilateral and multilateral relationships, as evidenced by the establishment of the CCDCR and its centralized role in promoting TCDC. However, ECLAC found in its own internal review that misperceptions and bias over the utility and value of TCDC made it a less desirable policy choice for many States. ECLAC noted that, possibly influenced by those biases, some countries still lacked institutional focal points for TCDC. Furthermore, the CCDCR only met irregularly at this point, limiting its effectiveness.

The Secretary-General’s 2002 report on South-South cooperation noted continued progress in the 1990s, including the emergence of key regional actors supporting South-South cooperation such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico and Venezuela. These and other countries were cited as serving as hubs of intra-South cooperation, some of whom had expended substantial resources on outreach to other developing countries. The report also noted institution-wide progress and credited some of that to increases in States’ domestic technical capacity in the intervening decade and erosion of bias for North-South development strategies. Much of that progress was attributed to improved capacity building supported by the UNDP. Yet the strategic objectives of collective self-reliance and capacity for greater participation in the world economy had still not yet been realized for most developing countries, with blame given to the lack of adequate information, inefficient or underdeveloped infrastructure, weak financial support and failure to implement previously agreed to action plans and reforms.

Following the formalization of the international development agenda in 2000 via the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the General Assembly sought to energize South-South cooperation. In 2003, the body established a United Nations Day for South-South Cooperation, urged developing countries to intensify South-South and triangular cooperation—defined as South-South cooperation financed or otherwise facilitated by a Northern partner—and encouraged United Nations bodies to integrate South-South cooperation into the design and execution of their programmes. Responding to this call, ECLAC renamed the Committee on Cooperation among Developing Countries and Regions to the Committee on South-South Cooperation and requested the committee modernize its strategic approaches and mandate. In the years that followed, ECLAC continued biannual reviews of the work of the committee and, after the 2009 High-level United Nations Conference on South-South Cooperation, began hosting annual meetings with the presiding officers of the committee. By the end of the decade, ECLAC noted the continued impact of its efforts to promote South-South cooperation via institutional support to development programs, outreach and cooperation with other regional organizations and partnerships with countries and groups outside of the region. Despite the financial crisis, multilateral spending on the technical cooperation programme within ECLAC increased by 18 percent between 2006 and 2009.

Held in 2019, the Second High-level United Nations Conference on South-South Cooperation (BAPA+40) spurred further debate within ECLAC on how to continue efforts towards enhancing South-South cooperation. As many States in the region grew into middle income countries, areas of focus shifted from poverty, capacity building and health to include matters like urbanization, the environment and climate change. ECLAC reformed the Committee in 2020, converting the Committee to a regional conference, enabling it to establish multi-day programmes of work, form working groups and meet independent of the ECLAC session. The first conference has been set for 2023.

As GDP growth slows and inequality grows in the region, Latin America has an opportunity to leverage partnerships with other States to weather these latest crises. Whether it is sharing best practices in the face of an emergent pandemic or partnering on shifting industry to higher margin technology, the strong regional bonds, institutions and global relationships can be a source of stability and inspiration.

Questions to consider from your country’s perspective:

  • Given the challenges facing the region and its mandate to respond to the BAPA+40 outcomes document, what should ECLAC prioritize for the Conference in the year remaining before its first meeting?
  • How does the evolution of States to middle income status affect their role in South-South cooperation schemes in the region?
  • What work can ECLAC do today to build on the New International Order, TCDC, and South-South cooperation that can address the structural issues central to the topic?


Bibliography Bibliography

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United Nations Documents United Nations Documents

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The Inefficiency of Inequality The Inefficiency of Inequality

In 2018, at its 37th session, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) published The Inefficiency of Inequality. The report affirmed that sustainable economic development—which is ultimately focused on closing structural gaps to promote productivity, the growth and dissemination of knowledge, and the strengthening of democracy—requires an equality of means, opportunities, capacities and recognition. Inequality results in an inefficient society in two ways. First, it hinders innovation and productivity by limiting full access to education, health and other opportunities that could grow a culture of creativity. Secondly, the destruction of the environment degrades populations’ quality of life, which has significant impacts both on existing generations as well as on future generations (and thus can be seen as a form of intergenerational inequality). It also has a greater impact on the impoverished while directly challenging efforts towards sustainable development; ECLAC estimates that around 560,000 life years are lost across the region every year from the impacts of environmental problems.

The Latin America and the Caribbean region is one of the most unequal regions in the world, with on average the top 10 percent of people capturing 54 percent of the national income. In The Inefficiency of Inequality, ECLAC related this inequality to the culture of privilege that originates from the conquest and colonization of indigenous people, the dehumanization of those of African descent who were forced into slavery and the exploitation of women. Today, this history presents itself as a cultural ideology that sees inequality as part of the natural order and has subsequently reconstituted hierarchies of privilege based on economic status, race, gender, birth and bloodline in order to reproduce dominance. This inequality is further perpetuated by a cycle of poverty, which sees these disadvantaged groups complete less school, live further from places of employment with longer daily commutes, work at a lower wage and suffer higher rates of unemployment. While many States, including in the region, attempt to rectify inequality with redistribution and social welfare policies, the Inefficiency of Inequality report and others suggest that such policies will never suffice. Instead, reckoning with this history necessitates addressing systemic gaps for those who have been placed at the bottom of these hierarchies and creating new ideologies and policies rooted in equality when promoting development that addresses these structural problems. The 2018 report also argues that strengthening democracy threatens the culture of privilege and promotes the creation of pro-equality institutions.

ECLAC’s focus on inequality goes beyond this report; while inequality has been included in some way through almost all of the body’s work, it began to acknowledge inequality as a central focus in the 2010s. This came after years of regional progress after political leaders prioritized combating inequality and resultant declines in social and economic inequality, giving hope that a range of policies could be more broadly applied to continue this progress. Complementing this focus, ECLAC has also been a prominent champion of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) since their 2015 adoption. To this end, at the 2016 XIII Regional Conference on Women and Latin America and the Caribbean, Member States of ECLAC adopted the Montevideo Strategy for the Implementation of the Regional Gender Agenda within the Sustainable Development Framework for 2030. The Montevideo Strategy aims to accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda amongst regional governments from a perspective of human rights and women’s autonomy—consistent with efforts to challenge the structural biases behind inequality. To continue their work on the SDGs, in 2019, Member States of ECLAC adopted the Regional Agenda for Inclusive Social Development (RAISD) at the III Meeting of the Regional Conference on Social Development in Latin America and the Caribbean. While similar to the Montevideo Strategy, this agenda specifically sought to support the social aspects of the 2030 SDGs by advocating for social development more holistically. 

ECLAC has also sought to address the environmental degradation contributing to regional inequality. In 2019, ECLAC hosted the Symposium on Mainstreaming Gender in Water Resources Management, Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction Policies in the Caribbean in collaboration with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). The meeting especially recognized the unequal impact of climate change on underprivileged populations. Noting the connection between climate change and migration as well as the need for both aspects to be understood through the lens of sustainable development, ECLAC has, since 2020, been involved in a project on “Harnessing the contribution of intra-region migration to socio-economic development in Latin American and Caribbean countries.” This project aims to strengthen the capacities of national authorities to formulate evidence-based public policies and development plans that fully harness the contributions of migrants for sustainable development, through the improvement of their understanding of the social, economic and cultural benefits of international migration.

The COVID-19 pandemic greatly curtailed regional development and was exacerbated by the region’s inequality, with many of the region’s people unable to socially distance because of cramped urban environments, unable to work from home because of poor infrastructure and the types of industries common in the area, and unable to access timely healthcare. These factors may explain the disproportionate share of global deaths in the region, which in the pandemic’s first year alone saw 1.26 million deaths, or 34 percent of the global total at that point. As predicted in ECLAC’s Inefficiency of Inequality report, the lack of industrial diversification and investment in low-value added industries left the region particularly vulnerable to the economic shock of the pandemic and the supply chain issues stemming from the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. Projections from May 2022 indicate that Latin America and the Caribbean will see economic growth decelerate from 6.2 percent in 2021 to 1.8 percent in 2022.

Noting the potential for decreased economic growth for the region, ECLAC has put forth several initiatives to rethink the development model. One framework, the Circular Cities Declaration of Latin America and the Caribbean, seeks to let cities and territories lead the way when redesigning and reconceptualizing urban areas. This is of particular importance since Latin America and the Caribbean is the largest urbanized developing region in the world and urban areas are both where the largest economies as well as the largest inequalities often manifest themselves.

While formulating ideas to address urbanization and promote development in the region, ECLAC has prioritized the importance of sustainability and environmental protections in their work as well. The region’s first environmental treaty, the Escazú Agreement, entered into effect in April 2021 and was directly targeted at addressing inequality and promoting the right to sustainable development and a healthy environment. At the first conference of parties (COP1) in April 2022, Member States noted the importance of cooperation as well as multilateral efforts in securing the right for all individuals to live in a healthy environment

With the predictions of low economic growth in their region and its roots in global instability, ECLAC hopes to promote equitable development by continuing to address the evolving COVID-19 health crisis and also by improving the ability of Latin America and the Caribbean to adequately respond to any future economic and social shock. In a similar vein, ECLAC is looking into the effects of the war on Ukraine upon Latin America and the Caribbean, focusing on how global instability may contribute to further inequity in social and economic development among certain groups in the region. Finally, with the year 2030 coming closer, ECLAC aims to further their work on the 2030 SDGs, with particular attention to the goals of eradicating poverty and addressing inequality in the system. Given the disproportionate impacts of many of these problems and the great potential these opportunities present for the most vulnerable, ECLAC can continue to seize the moment to champion the structural changes its report highlighted.

Questions to consider from your country’s perspective:

  • How can the continuous growth of cities in Latin America and the Caribbean be addressed in a way that uplifts those who face socioeconomic inequality in urban areas? 
  • What lessons can be learned from the COVID-19 pandemic in order to ensure the resiliency of the region and promote sustainable development for developing countries? 
  • How can ECLAC build on the Escazú Agreement to acknowledge and address the structural drivers of intergenerational inequality? 

Bibliography Bibliography

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United Nations Documents United Nations Documents

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