South Centre

Established: 1995

Address: International Environment House 2, Chemin de Balexert 7-9 1219 Vernier, Switzerland

Website: https://www.southcentre.int/

Stakeholder group: NGOs and associations

Established in 1995, the South Centre is an intergovernmental policy research think tank composed of and accountable to developing country member states. It researches key policy development issues and supports developing countries to effectively participate in international negotiating processes that are relevant to achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs). The South Centre promotes the unity of the Global South in such processes while recognising the diversity of national interests and priorities.

The South Centre works on a wide range of issues relevant to countries in the Global South and the global community in general, such as sustainable development, climate change, South-South cooperation (SSC), financing for development, innovation and intellectual property, traditional knowledge, access to medicines, health, biodiversity, trade, investment agreements, international tax cooperation, human rights, gender, and the fourth industrial revolution.

Within the limits of its capacity and mandate, the South Centre also responds to requests for policy advice and technical and other support from its members and other developing countries.

The South Centre has observer status in several international organisations.

Digital activities

Innovation and development is one of the issue areas the South Centre works on. As part of its efforts within this domain, it focuses on information technologies. Moreover, digital issues are also tackled in the domain of, inter alia, taxation and the digital economy, data governance, e-commerce, and the fourth industrial revolution.

The South Centre has produced deliverables/research outputs in the following areas: digital and financial inclusion, digital economy, digital taxation, digital industrialisation, and digital trade, among others.

Digital policy issues

Intellectual property rights

IP issues such as digital rights management and international legal frameworks for copyright in the digital age in the context of digital transformation have also been the subject of South Centre research.

In June 2019, it published a policy brief on Intellectual Property and Electronic Commerce: Proposals in the WTO and Policy Implications for Developing Countries, in which it gave an overview of discussions within the WTO on IP and its potential implications for the digital economy.

AI was also tackled through the lens of IP. In Input on the Draft Issues Paper on IP Policy and AI submitted to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the South Centre provides several recommendations which, among other things, underscore the particularities of AI and IP policy in developing countries and capacity building, including South-South dynamics that should be tackled in the final draft of the issues paper.

In September 2020, the South Centre published a research paper on Data in Legal Limbo: Ownership, Sovereignty, or a Digital Public Goods Regime? and in 2022, a research paper on The Liability of Internet Service Providers for Copyright Infringement in Sri Lanka: A Comparative Analysis.

E-commerce and trade

The digital economy is another issue researched by the South Centre in the context of development. For instance, in 2017 it published an analytical note The WTO’s Discussions on Electronic Commerce, in which it explores the stance of developing countries (i.e. readiness in terms of infrastructure, upskilling, etc.) to engage in cross-border e-commerce. Among other things, it highlights challenges such as low information technology (IT) adoption and the lack of electricity supply that limit the uptake of e-commerce activities in Africa for instance. Another analytical note published that same year tackles the impact of the digital economy on micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), and looks into the type of e-commerce rules that could best serve the interests of MSMEs.

The South Centre also provides analyses and organises many meetings to discuss issues such as the WTO E-Commerce Moratorium and the Joint Statement Initiative (JSI) plurilateral discussions on e-commerce.

In 2019, it addressed issues on the regulation of the digital economy in developing countries, namely, the future of work, market dynamics, and data and privacy protection.

The South Centre recently published a research paper on the WTO Moratorium on Customs Duties on Electronic Transmissions. This paper highlights the adverse impacts of the continuing moratorium on developing and least developed countries. Because of the moratorium, almost all developing and least developed countries are losing tariff revenues at a time when they are most needed. With no clarity on the definition of electronic transmissions and thereby on the scope of the moratorium, its continuation can lead to substantive tariff revenue losses for developing and least developed countries in the future.

In addition to publications, the South Centre organises events, such as a workshop on E-commerce and Domestic Regulation, a technical session on South-South Digital Cooperation to Boost Trade Competitiveness, and a high-level event on South-South Digital Cooperation for Industrialization.

The South Centre also monitors developments and participates in discussions in the field and across international organisations in Geneva, including the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) eTrade for All initiative.

In 2022, the South Centre organised/co-organised two sessions during UNCTAD eCommerce week: Data Regulation: Implications for the Digitization of the Economy and Development and Exploring a Global Framework for Data Governance. The South Centre Executive Director also participated in the eTrade for All Leadership Dialogue. See the Centre’s contribution here.

Taxation

A South Centre policy brief published in 2019 sheds light on some of the implications for developing countries concerning the new international taxation global governance structure and the ongoing corporate tax reform process under the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Inclusive Framework on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) project umbrella in the context of the digitalisation of the economy. Policy responses undertaken are briefly summarised in a SouthViews and elaborated in detail in a research paper by the South Centre Tax Initiative (SCTI).

In August 2020, the SCTI published a report from its Developing Country Expert Group: Assessment of the Two-Pillar Approach to Address the Tax Challenges Arising from the Digitalization of the Economy: An Outline of Positions Favorable to Developing Countries. This report is written primarily for developing country negotiators in the Inclusive Framework and contains a technical assessment of Pillars One and Two. The aim is to discuss the positions and principles that can inform the negotiations in the best interests of developing countries. However, it is also written for a larger audience, particularly diplomats involved in financing for development discussions and international trade rule making, so as to sensitise them to the nuances of the ongoing discussion on the taxation of the digitised economy. In 2021, Tax Cooperation Policy Briefs were produced on Article 12B – A Tax Treaty Solution by the UN Tax Committee for Taxing Digital Incomes and Developing Country Demands for an Equitable Digital Tax Solution. In 2022, a SouthViews on South Asia and the Need for Increased Tax Revenues from the Digitized Economy was published. The SCTI also submitted many comments on this matter in recent years.

In 2021, the South Centre co-organised a webinar with the Global Alliance for Tax Justice (GATJ): Build your House on your own Pillars – Key Issues for Developing Countries at the OECD Inclusive Framework Negotiations on the Taxation of the Digital Economy. Just recently, in collaboration with the Coalition for Dialogue on Africa, it held a dialogue series on illicit financial flows: Comparing Tax Revenues to be Raised by Developing Countries from the OECD and UN Solutions for Taxing the Digital Economy. A research paper was also presented in the meeting.

To see other publications and meetings on this topic, go to https://taxinitiative.southcentre.int.

Sustainable development

The South Centre has delved into the interplay between digital technologies and development on several occasions through its research outputs. In 2006, it published an analytical note titled Internet Governance for Development. The document tackles the interplay between development and technology arguing that affordable access to the internet allows for better education opportunities, greater access to information, improved private and public services, and stronger cultural diversity. More specifically, the document provided recommendations on issues such as openness (e.g. leaving the policy space open for developing countries), diversity (e.g. multilingualism), and security (e.g. funding of computer security incident response teams (CSIRTs)) to maximise the outcomes of discussions for developing countries at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF).

A year later, the South Centre published the research paper Towards a Digital Agenda for Developing Countries, in which it looks into the conditions, rights, and freedoms necessary for developing countries to benefit from digital and Internet resources. By bringing together several different strands of ongoing discussions and analyses at the national and international levels, it provides a direction for further research and policy analysis by laying the groundwork and creating awareness of the relevance and scope of digital and internet content for policymakers in developing countries.

In 2020, the South Centre continued to research the impact of digital technologies in the context of development. Its research paper The Fourth Industrial Revolution in Developing Nations: Challenges and Roadmap tackles trends in emerging technologies such as big data, robotics, and the internet of things (IoT), and identifies challenges, namely, the lack of infrastructure, a trained and skilled workforce, scalability, and funding faced by developing countries. It goes on to propose a strategic framework for responding to the fourth industrial revolution, which focuses on capacity building, technology incubations, scientific development, and policymaking.

In light of the ongoing global health pandemic, the South Centre as part of its publication series South Views, shared the perspectives of developing countries on digital health. The article uses the example of the adoption of digital technologies in healthcare in Pakistan, and how the COVID-19 crisis further advanced the development of digital health. A SouthViews on Access to Medical Equipment in a Pandemic Situation: Importance of Localized Supply Chains and 3D Printing was also published.

In 2020 and 2021, a SouthViews on Technology and Inequality: Can We Decolonise the Digital World?, on Digital Transformation: Prioritizing Data Localization, and An Introduction to the UN Technology Bank for the Least Developed Countries were also published.

A Public Health Approach to Intellectual Property Rights is a virtual help desk on the use of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) flexibilities for public health purposes.

The South Centre has general and specific emailing lists. In light of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the South Centre has increasingly used Zoom and Microsoft Teams for online meetings and webinars. The South Centre is moving to institutionally become a paperless organisation.

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