Jun 28, 1989


GENEVA, JUNE 26 (BY CHAKRAVARTHI RAGHAVAN)ó The group of 77 have underscored the urgent need for "a serious and constructive dialogue between developed and developing countries" if the international community is to avoid "an irreversible breakdown of the international economic system".

The group's call has come in the Caracas declaration adopted by a ministerial meeting of the group of 77 held at Caracas last week marking the 15th anniversary of the group.

Reaffirming the group's "readiness and commitment" to such a dialogue, and urging industrialised countries to reciprocate, the Caracas declaration added: "there is urgent need to forge a consensus centred on growth and development. Such an understanding should lead to effective cooperative action in the inter-related areas of money, finance, trade, external debt, and development."

In a communique issued at the end of the meeting, the group said: "the ministers hereby declare their resolve to take advantage of every possible opportunity in the coming years to promote systematic action and foster dialogue."

The declaration said: "the group of 77 is of the view that significant opportunities have arisen for giving a new thrust to the development dialogue and breathing new life into the mechanisms and modalities of international economic cooperation. The G77 is determined to avail itself of every opening for serious and meaningful dialogue in a spirit of mutual interest and human solidarity".

"In this context it is determined to make its contribution to broaden international understanding and promote international cooperation through the special session of the general assembly, the process of elaboration of the international development strategy for the 1990's, the forthcoming eighth conference of UNCTAD and such other political level meetings, including summit gatherings of developed and developing countries as may be organised."

The last is seen as a reference to moves being made by precedent Mitterand, in consultation with some key countries of the south to organise a second Cancun of sorts, and on which Mitterand is expected to say something at the forthcoming Paris summit of western leaders and the bicentennial celebrations of the French revolution for which a number of prominent third world heads have been invited.

The Caracas meeting was reportedly attended by about 90 member countries, with perhaps about 30 ministers or of ministerial rank, according to some participants.

Also present at the meeting, apart from representatives of the UN and other international organisations were observers from Australia, Canada, Greece and Spain, among the OECD countries, and from China.

This is the first time the OECD countries have been allowed to be present as "observers".

Mongolia, a member of the council for mutual economic assistance (CMEA) of the east European socialists, was admitted as a member of the G77 in the Asian group.

Till the Caracas meeting, the organisational body that has provided overall inter-governmental guidance and authority (including settling membership issues) for the "informal group of 77" has been the ministerial meetings of trade ministers prior to the four-yearly sessions of UNCTAD, whose founding resulted in the creation of the G77 too.

In the late 70ís, this created some conflicts and rivalries between the Geneva G77 who were more structured and organised and dealt with technical and economic issues, and the more political New York chapter, whose diplomats reported to their foreign offices.

The Caracas meeting has perhaps 'settled' this question by making the G77 and their New York chapter, and other chapters, to report to the annual foreign ministers meeting and thus derive authority and legitimacy from their foreign ministries.

But the weakness of this arrangement, and its lack of technical details or grasp of the current political economy of the world and of the group of 77 is also reflected in the final documents of Caracas.

The preparations of the Caracas meeting was in the hands of the New York charter, and according to G77 sources here, their own inputs, focussing on the trade and development dimensions and issues were ignored in the preparatory work. None of the G77 from Geneva, not even the chairman of the group went to Caracas.

Judged either in terms of the agenda the group had set itself in planning the 25th anniversary meeting or the imperatives of the international environment and crisis facing the countries of the south or the 'updating' of the raison díêtre of the group that president Carlos Andes Perez of Venezuela in his inaugural address called for, the declaration is seen by observers as a routine document, even though it is an improvement on the drafts before the meeting.

In his address, President Perez noted that while the underlying rationale and raison díêtre giving rise to the group of 77 gained more force with the passing of time, "a substantial updating of such raison díêtre is necessary in the light of experience".

He then outlined some major points in this regard, touching on the new agenda, and mechanisms:

Among others, he called for the "rationalisation of the international negotiating agenda" and said: "whether in the ambit of south-south or of north-south, we cannot continue to use the overloaded agendas of the past, but must be much more global, reserving specific subject matters for the specific forum."

While the group's final document contains all the normal complaints and demands about aid, debt, trade, protectionism, etc., there is little of a new rationalised 'negotiating agenda'.

The group however said that at the special session it "will endeavour to reach agreement with the developed countries on the lines of action for resolving in an integrated way some of the pressing problems of its member-countries, including, money, finance, resource flows, trade, commodities, external debt and development, taking due account of the existing asymmetry and incorporating in the deliberations the special needs and circumstances of the developing countries".

"The objective will be at least to reach a consensus on the nature of the problems, on the approach to solve them and on the principle and modalities to be applied. This will indeed be the earliest possible opportunity of resuming the north-south dialogue on a comprehensive basis, in all seriousness and with a sense of purpose".

"The process of elaboration of an international development, strategy for the 1990's should enable these objectives to be pursued in a long-term perspective. At the same time, it should a coherent framework for international cooperation and an opportunity for governments to undertake specific commitments".

Perez also called for effective strengthening of south-south relations, as the path to the firmer and more reliable revitalisation of north-south relations, and argued for a technical support mechanism.

"The south", Perez said, "cannot pretend, with its still so incipient organisation, to be a valid interlocutor to northern countries groups such as the OECD, the EEC and the CMEA, endowed with mechanisms for organization and for the promotion of mutual relations that are supported by technical offices with hundreds of their own internatioal officers".

"Systematic and sustained technical support for the south, with or without the formal backing of all its member countries, has already become a necessity that absolutely cannot be put off if the standing and efficacy of the group of 77 are to be assured."

There are some references to the core of assistants in New York, and greater use of the services and facilities available at the office of the chairperson in New York by all the chapters.

But there is nothing in the Caracas documents about technical support for the negotiations, particularly in Geneva where the only south-north dialogue, on the agenda of the north for restructuring the world economy and relations well into the 21st century is currently on in the Uruguay round and which, if successful will leave nothing for the New York delegates to dialogue about or in UNCTAD in where a large number of north-south issues are discussed and sought to be negotiated under the rubric of "trade and development".

In a call for raising, "the political level of the south-south dialogue", President Perez also suggested "periodic meetings of heads of state, which do not necessarily have to include all the countries, if that makes it more difficult to achieve the fluidity and the desirable nature of these meetings in effectively accomplishing their role of orientation and decision making".

The Caracas document has merely called for annual one-day meetings of foreign ministers in New York at the time of the UN general assembly sessions, to be preceded by a two-day group meeting, with participation of chairpersons of various chapters, and continuation of present practice of preparatory ministerial meetings before specific conferences.

In so far as the Caracas documents have not ruled out technical support and periodic meetings of heads of state, without necessarily the formal backings of the group as such, Perezís call might give shape to some of the ideas already being canvassed by those in the south seeking autonomous development.

As long-time observers of the group see it, the Caracas declaration, while it has the merit of saying nothing to weaken the position of the third world in other fora, it does not point to any active programme to reinvigorate the group and rescue it. From the routine of diplomatic processes in the UN fora where the process and motions of dialogue become an end in itself and tend to be equated with the objective and goals.

It appears to reflect the preoccupations and views of the New York chapter of the group of 77, and their desire to secure a dialogue with the north in the general assembly, but does not

address in specifics either the content of the dialogue and how the seventy-seven, organisationally or substantively, can effectively dialogue without an updating of their platform.

The declaration stressed that in the last 25 years, the group along with the non-aligned movement had come to symbolise "the underlying unity and solidarity of developing countries, and represents their common world view on international economic issues".

The group listed among its most important achievements, the nieo declaration and programme of action adopted by consensus by the UN general assembly and viewed it as an objective "which remains valid and relevant".

Assessing the economic situation of the third world, the group said that on the threshold of the 21st century, the G77 members are faced "with a world situation highly complex and uncertain and at the same time providing a unioue opportunity for giving a renewed thrust to international cooperation for development".

The G77 members are pursuing their development objectives "in a very unfavourable external environment", and of their "strenuous efforts" of adjustment at "heavy social and political costs".

Third world countries are also pursuing "wide-ranging policy reforms and are ready to integrate with the world much more freely than in the past", but the success of these efforts require "a more open and cooperative world economy".

The factors operating in the world economy, in recent years, the G77 said, have threatened to accentuate the polarisation between the north and the south, and it is not possible "to sustain a world divided between the haves and havenots".

The improvements in international political climate should be consolidated by extending it to all the regions of the world and there should be "a search for a prompt and enduring solution to the major international economic and social problems, particularly those affecting developing countries".

The international economic structure is becoming increasingly multi-polar. There is a trend towards integration of economies of industrialised countries, while the socialist countries were in the process of carrying out wide-ranging reforms aimed at closer integration of their economies with the mainstream of the world economy.

Third world countries too are endeavouring to strengthen their regional integration processes, but the success of these strategies require "a much more open and cooperative world economy", and it is imperative that united and integrated markets industrialised countries become "outward looking and enhance rather than diminish market access of developing countries."

The declaration calls for strengthening and improving the international trading system, especially with a view to making it more responsive to the trade and development needs of third world countries.

"The group of 77", the declaration has said, "attaches great importance to the Uruguay round of trade negotiations as a means of strengthening the multilateral trading system. It hopes that the subjects and issues of particular interest to developing countries would be given full attention so that there is a balanced outcome resulting in enhanced export prospects for developing countries tin consonance with their trade and development needs and aspirations."

In the only reference to the mid-term accords, the declaration has welcomed "the agreement reached in the Uruguay round towards the liberalisation of trade in agriculture."

In a reference to the U.S. s.301 actions, the group also urged the industrialised countries "to fully respect the agreement reached during UNCTAD-VII that the observance of multilaterally agreed commitments with respect to trade in goods should not be, made conditional on receiving concessions in other areas."

Referring to environment and sustainable development, the declaration has reaffirmed the group's commitment to strengthen international cooperation for protection of the environment, which required a global multilateral effort within the forums of the UN to address the problems in all its aspects.

The concept of 'sustainable development', the declaration has added must "necessarily include meeting the basic needs of peoples of developing countries, maintaining adequate levels of growth for attaining their social and economic objectives and improving the equality of life in a healthy, safe and clean environment.

"The concept of sustainable development should not be used as a pretext for additional conditionally in the policies of multilateral development and financial institutions ... poverty and environmental degradation are closely inter-related and environmental protection must therefore be viewed as an integral part of the development process and cannot be considered in isolation from it."

The group called for net additional financial resources being aside for environmental cooperation, including enabling access to and transfer of environmentally safe technologies, and for alternative technologies being made available to third world countries on concessional terms.

Since industrialised countries account for the bulk of production and consumption of environmentally damaging substances they should bear the main responsibility in the search for long-term remedies for global environmental protection and should make a major contribution to international efforts to reduce consumption of such substances.

Measures, taken at the international level, the group asserted, should take full account of existing asymmetry in global production and consumption patterns and should consciously seek to redress this asymmetry.

The group welcomed Brazil's offer to host the proposed second world conference on environment and development.