10:54 AM Apr 3, 1996


Geneva 3 April (Chakravarthi Raghavan) -- The Group of 77 and China should maintain and even strengthen their unity, and expand the functional cooperation within the group, UNCTAD Secretary-General Rubens Ricupero told the Group of 77 Wednesday.

Ricupero was speaking at the inaugural plenary session of the 20th meeting of the chapters of the Group of 77 in Geneva and outlining to them the state of preparations for the ninth session of the UN Conference on Trade and Development to be held at Midrand, Johannesburg from 27 April.

Earlier, the Chairman of the Group of 77, Amb. Fernando Berrocal Soto, Permanent Representative of Costa Rica to the UN in New York, in his statement to the chapters meeting, stressed the continued validity and importance of the G77 as a vital instrument to articulate and promote the collective interests of developing countries in the economic and social development fields. "Despite the diversity of the countries constituting it, the Group remains an indispensable negotiating tool, in view of the growing inequities of the international economic order."

The Chairman of the Geneva chapter of the G77, Amb. Francis-Xavier Ngobeyou, who chaired the meeting, referred to the decisions of the G77 at Teheran in 1991 and UNCTAD-VIII in Cartagena for abandoning the "confrontations" of which they were accused, and said: "in the light of our experiences since then we should ask ourselves how we can improve our functioning and improve our ability to negotiate."

After the upheavals caused as a result of implementation of SAPs, many of the developing countries were wondering about the social effects of liberalization and accelerating globalization on their economies and development and their political stability. The G77, he suggested, would need to look at these questions and seek solutions, Ngobeyou added.

Ricupero told the meeting that in preparing for UNCTAD-IX, the developing countries "have demonstrated both individual and collective will to pursue effective mobilization in the multilateral arena", prepared regional positions as goals to be pursued and measures to be advocated. Their regional Declarations emphasized the evolving character of world trade and financial flows, the integration of certain markets, the emergence of regional trading blocs and preferential arrangements of various sorts, the persistence of protectionism, and new issues such as those concerning services. They also reflected the growing interest of developing countries in environmental, social and other issues.

"However," said Ricupero, "there is a challenge ahead which requires the forging of a consensus on the basis of shared goals with the developing countries' development partners, namely the developed countries... I am confident that the wisdom,, foresight, commitment, and patience which the Group of 77 has always displayed will help us to tackle the formidable task ahead."

Unlike in the past, while the constituents of the G77 held their regional preparatory meetings, there has been no G77 Ministerial meeting, and the regional groups, and some individual countries within them, particularly from the Latin American region, have been functioning in an uncoordinated way in the pre-Conference preparatory process in Geneva when the Trade and Development Board sought to evolve a pre-conference negotiating text. That text, adopted last week and passed on to the Conference, in many vital areas is full of square brackets, with some of them going to the very basics of UNCTAD and its future role, and pits not only the developing countries against developed countries like the United States, but even some within the G77, who have fully embraced the neo-liberal theology against others.

Ricupero during his tenure in Geneva in the late '80s had chaired the informal developing country group in the GATT and played an important role in enabling them to speak with a cohesive voice, despite their differing national interests. Since then, that group too has become largely dysfunctional.

His speech to the G77 Wednesday made no direct or indirect reference to the reality of the non-functioning of the Group of 77, but his more generally worded remarks as UNCTAD head had some relevance to this.

"The Group of 77 and China," Ricupero stressed, "should maintain and even strengthen their unity and expand functional cooperation within the group.

"I can only remind you of well-known truths as you embark on your important work. There are no miraculous answers to the problems of international trade and development. Bringing about the solutions to the problems is a process. It can be speeded up; it can be directed; and it can be made less turbulent. But it will remain a process that takes place through cooperation and partnership for development. UNCTAD-IX, which the Group of 77 and China have a major stake is an event along the way. In that connection we are all looking forward to the Eighth Ministerial Meeting of the Group of 77 which will take place in South Africa in conjunction with the Conference."

There could be no more urgent task for development than to attack both the causes and the symptoms of the problems that face us, the UNCTAD head continued.

"Development is not only a fundamental human right, it is the most secure basis for peace. It calls for great intellectual understanding, patience, deep moral commitment, and effective policy measures. Without such understanding, all that has been achieved by the Group of 77 over three decades is at risk. Worse, people of developing countries may continue to live desperate lives blighted by hunger and want."

UNCTAD as an institution and its secretariat would remain committed to making a decisive contribution in support of efforts of Member States to pursue the goals of development.

"Undoubtedly, we are facing formidable tasks in the context of decreasing and diminishing resources, as well as a structural financial crisis," Ricupero stressed. "However, we shall make every endeavour to maximise the efficient use of available resources to meet your mandates and demands."

Earlier, Ricupero noted that previously unimagined processes were taking place in the world, with far-reaching implications for international economic cooperation and development.

However, if global economic interdependence offered the prospects of higher productivity and living standards, it also linked national economies more closely to exogenous financial and other disturbances.

Compared to the circumstances when the G77 was established (in 1964), the world economy today offered great potential and prospects for growth and development. At the same time, in this period of transition, there was much uncertainty and many pitfalls, thus bringing together both opportunities and dangers.

Ricupero said that the persistence of poverty and growing inequality, together with the proliferating risks of marginalization and environmental destruction, had rendered cooperation a sine qua non for meeting the challenges of globalization.

UNCTAD, he recalled, was created in the mid-1960s with a development mission, to change the status quo, and was expected to develop a better and improved system of economic relations. Its inspiration was rooted in ethics and justice: the conviction that only an equitably changed system could open the way to development of all mankind.

Formulating principles on international trade and related problems of economic development and making proposals for putting these principles and policies into effect was the principal function of UNCTAD.

"And while Change did come about, it was not in the manner envisaged when the G77 and UNCTAD were established. Rather than being the result of a formalized process of multilateral negotiations among States, it has been the product of profound globalizing forces largely beyond the control of governments, based on decentralized and private-sector patterns coordinated by market forces."

UNCTAD, Ricupero said, had played its own, albeit limited role in these transformations, providing assistance to developing countries to adapt more efficient development policies and increasing the use of international trade as a tool for integration, growth and development.

"Perhaps more relevant, UNCTAD provided a unique platform to promote a global partnership and an international alliance for growth, development and employment."

However, conceptual explanations (of the processes at work) were not ends in themselves, but had to be viewed from the perspective of their usefulness in helping to promote development in a fair, sustainable and harmonious way. Hence analysis had to be action-oriented in two complementary directions -- in preparation of the multilateral future negotiations on trade, investment, competition, environment and technology -- providing a development perspective that would balance the overall picture by taking into account the needs and interests of countries at different stages of integration into the world economy. This work would be pursued in a cooperative and complementary manner with other international institutions, with UNCTAD helping countries to prepare for the negotiations or to implement the results of such negotiations. UNCTAD's future engagement should include making the best possible use of opportunities created in trade, promoting investment, providing technical assistance to interested governments in designing competition laws, advancing positive incentives for environmentally friendly development and conducting reviews of national policies on science and technology.