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Instruments and structures of development cooperation
  • Bonn

Trilateral cooperation in German development policy

International partnerships with a future – but adjustments are still required

Drei Hände, die drei Zahnräder halten

Bonn, 30 April 2020 – Emerging countries such as Indonesia, Mexico and Brazil are increasingly engaging in development cooperation along with industrialised countries. As well as financial resources, they are placing experience and expertise at the disposal of developing countries. When Germany works jointly with an emerging country to implement development policy measures in a developing country, it is called trilateral cooperation.

The purpose of this type of cooperation is not solely to achieve standard development objectives like poverty reduction in the developing country. Beyond this, it is intended to promote partnerships between the actors involved and to strengthen the emerging country’s capacities and structures for the management of development cooperation activities. A new evaluation by the German Institute for Development Evaluation (DEval) concludes that the instrument of trilateral cooperation has the potential to achieve these objectives. However, this potential cannot be fully exploited at present due to insufficient steering and resources.

Insufficient impacts in the beneficiary country

The evaluation shows that the instrument of trilateral cooperation often strengthens both the partnership between the participating countries and the development cooperation capacities in the emerging country involved. However, the impacts of the measures in the developing country are not satisfactory for the most part. Commenting on this, the director of DEval, Prof. Dr Jörg Faust says:


"Trilateral cooperation has the potential to be a forward-looking mode of development cooperation. But to achieve this, rather than focusing only on strengthening the relationships between the countries involved, more attention must be paid to the effectiveness of the measures on the ground. In its current form, the instrument is not meeting the high expectations attached to it, particularly on the last point.”


Challenges: no common understanding, lack of resources

The evaluation identifies three specific challenges for the improvement of the instrument.

1. Within German development cooperation, there is not yet an adequate degree of common understanding about the goals and the usage of trilateral cooperation.

2. The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) needs more and better information about the measures, to enable more systematic monitoring of results and steering of the instrument.

3. Insufficient financial and human resources make it harder to implement trilateral cooperation in an impact-oriented manner in the beneficiary countries. Despite the comparatively high level of attention received by the instrument, in 2006–2017 only around 0.05 % of the BMZ budget was spent on trilateral cooperation.


Positive experiences in Latin America and the Caribbean

The challenges affecting the implementation of trilateral cooperation apply primarily in Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Experience from Latin America and the Caribbean shows that essentially the instrument can work very well. Trilateral cooperation is more firmly anchored in this region than in the other two. It is coordinated centrally via a regional fund, which reduces transaction costs. This fund distributes German funding for trilateral cooperation and offers continuing education and training on planning, monitoring and project management. Furthermore, it organises regional conferences in order to heighten the instrument’s visibility and strengthen dialogue between the partners. Other advantages of trilateral cooperation – namely cooperation on an equal footing between all three partners, and joint learning – have been more evident in Latin America than in the other regions so far.


Steering and resources to make full use of potential

To make full use of the potential of trilateral cooperation, DEval recommends that the BMZ should sharpen its strategy and decide which objectives it wants to prioritise and achieve with the instrument. To ensure that the measures contribute towards the envisaged objectives, the ministry should improve the monitoring of trilateral cooperation and make sufficient financial and human resources available within the BMZ and the implementing organisations.


About the evaluation

The data base for the evaluation consisted of an analysis of the German portfolio and the literature, as well as extensive case studies in Latin America and the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. The report “Trilateral cooperation in German development cooperation” is available on the DEval website.

Your contact persons

Dr Marcus Kaplan

Former Senior Evaluator DEval

Phone: +49 (0)228 336907-955

Email Write an email

Portrait von Dr. Stefan Leiderer
© DEval

Dr Stefan Leiderer

Head of Department: State Fragility, Conflict Prevention and Governance

Phone: +49 (0)228 336907-940

Email Write an email


Dennis Busemann

Former Evaluator

Phone: +49 (0)228 336907-985

Email Write an email

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