Jan 9, 1985


BY CHAKRAVARTHI RAGHAVAN, GENEVA, JANUARY 7 (IFDA) – The UN Multilateral System, which received setbacks in 1984 under an U.S.-led western onslaught, has entered the new year on a note of considerable uncertainty.

The U.S. walked out of UNESCO in 1984, and some other western countries are threatening to do so by end of 1985.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) begins 1985 without assurances of continued funding for its programmes to aid Third World farmers to increase food self-sufficiency.

The U.S. officials have said no provision is being made for its contributions to the budget of the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), as a part of the budget-cutting exercise.

The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), is facing increasing U.S. criticisms and attacks for not moving in directions favoured by the U.S., and in November barely managed to agree procedurally on a limited programme of work in 1985, and agree on a budget which the U.S. at one stage had threatened to block.

The World Bank in 1984 found itself unable to persuade the major industrial countries to agree on a replenishment for IDA-7 on an adequate scale, and has already scaled down its expected target of resource mobilisation for the special fund for Africa and its crisis.

The International Monetary Fund, has been reduced to the role of a debt collector for the private international banking system – through enforced adjustment programmes on a major debtor countries and mobilisation of "involuntary" bank lending for these countries, to enable debtors to pay interest and thus prevent technical debt default that would plunge the banking system into a crisis.

The UN Conference on Trade and Development, which with the Group of 77 observed in 1984 the 20th year of its founding, began 1985 without a secretary-general, and with deputy secretary-general, Alistair McIntyre (Grenada) functioning as an "officer-in-charge".

Gamani Corea’s term as UNCTAD Secretary-General was allowed to end on December 31, 1984 without a successor being named, and in circumstances which Third World diplomats and even some westerners call as "Shabby Treatment" for a distinguished international civil servant who had served the organisation well for ten years.

With many top posts in various divisions of UNCTAD vacant now for more than a year, and with the U.S. seemingly having had its way in getting Corea’s term ended despite lack of a successor, the UNCTAD staff have been in a state of demoralisation.

This turn of events in an organisation which was create specifically in 1964 to fill the gaps in international economic system that the IMF/World Bank and GATT had been unable to, is reflective of what many Third World diplomats and observers believe to be U.S. efforts to turn back the clock of history and multilateralism towards bilateralism and unilateralism.

The situation over the Secretary-General of UNCTAD is no doubt due to the failure of the African Group, which had staked a claim for the post, but was unable to agree on an eminent candidate who could command the support of all its members as well as other regional groups.

But part of the blame, Third World diplomats here say, also lay at the doors of the U.N. Secretary-General and his top aides, for the manner in which they have handled this issue.

When the U.S. launched its attack, early in 1984, on UNCTAD as an organisation and its secretariat, the U.N. Secretary-General remained largely silent, Third World diplomats note.

Even when he spoke on the UN multilateral system, in a major address in Geneva in July 1984, his prepared text was confined to political, security and humanitarian issues. His comment on the recourse to bilateralism and erosion of multilateralism in economic sectors came only in response to pointed questions.

Subsequently, at a press conference, and in his address to the Economic and Social Council, the UN chief executive avoided any comments on the attacks on the UNCTAD Secretariat or to defend the Secretariat and its staff, and their "independence" in performing their duties, guaranteed under article 100 of the UN charter.

Many Third World diplomats, and particularly those from Asia, suggest that the final outcome over the UNCTAD post was due perhaps to the efforts of top aides in New York not to antagonise the U.S.

Whatever the reason, Third World diplomats says, UNCTAD has been weakened and blocked, at least temporarily, from playing a useful role at a time of global crisis.

McIntyre, who has been named "officer-in-charge" of UNCTAD, is a distinguished Caribbean economist, who came to UNCTAD from the CARICOM secretariat.

Third World diplomats say much would depend on what kind of mandate and powers McIntyre will have as "officer-in-charge", and whether New York would empower him to fill the senior posts that have long remained vacant, and whether the secretariat would be permitted to take some initiatives in the face of the stalemated north-south dialogue, or whether UNCTAD would be merely "marking time" during the interregnum until a new secretary-general is appointed.

Another factor would be how, and whether, the Group of 77 and the non-aligned movement would react to these developments.

Throughout 1984, the Group of 77 has largely been on the "defensive", and reacting to OECD moves rather than initiating moves of their own.

The debt crisis and domestic problems that many of these countries have been facing in the international environment has resulted in many of the leading countries of the group being engrossed in their internal problems and seeking bilateral solutions to them. In this atmosphere, the group has not taken any initiatives.

Only in GATT was the informal group of the Third World (which includes besides G-77 members of GATT, also Spain, Turkey and Israel), able to take the initiative and function untidily.

As a result the group was able to (...) to get GATT involved in new avenues of activities – like trade in services – which would have ensured dependency development of the Third World.

This unity of the Third World in GATT has itself led to strains within the system, and the U.S. openly questioning the utility of the multilateral system for itself.