May 23, 1987


GENEVA, MAY 21 (IFDA/CHAKRAVARTHI RAGHAVAN) -- After some difficult and prolonged negotiations, the 15th special session of the UNCTAD Trade and Development Board Wednesday evening settled a number of organisational questions for the seventh session of the Conference due to be held in Geneva from July 9 to 3l.

Though seemingly procedural, the questions in a sense went to the substance of what UNCTAD is all about, what it could and should do at the session, the ways in which north-south negotiations could and should take place, and in particular whether the third world could or should negotiate collectively with the north through the group system that has characterised UNCTADís functioning since its inception in 1964 and then spread to other parts of the UN system.

Some of the countries of the "Group B", or the OECD countries and particularly the U.S. and some of its friends, made a determined bid to alter these rules of the game, make UNCTAD a place for "discussions", and thus a mere debating society, and break up the group system of functioning, and with it the third world group, forcing individual members or subgroups of them to negotiate with the north and/or its individual members.

The final outcome, in the shape of an oral report of the secretary-general of UNCTAD on the outstanding organisational questions which the board accepted, was the subject of prolonged informal consultations and negotiations both before and at the meeting of the special session.

A major difference between the G77 and the OECD countries has been the view of the latter that there should be an agreed assessment at the session on the relevant economic trends and global structural change, and only on this basis the Conference could or should consider the appropriate formulation of policies and measures, on the four agenda items before the session.

The G77, right from the time of the discussions that led to the formulation of the agenda did not accept this position, though as a compromise they had agreed to make an effort at arriving at a common assessment. however, they argued that irrespective of the outcome of such an effort, the Conference should get down to the problems and issues in the four major areas to be considered, and try to negotiate and agree upon policies and measures to deal with the crisis in these areas.

As agreed Wednesday, as part of the preparatory process for the Conference, a process of informal consultations among all UNCTAD members will be undertaken "on the assessment of the relevant economic trends and of global structural change".

These consultations are to be carried out under the aegis of the President of the Board, Amb. Saad Alfarargi of Egypt.

Alfarargi announced at the board that he would organise and begin this process of consultation sometime next week.

The president is to exercise flexibility with regard to the modalities for such consultations, but ensure that these modalities provide for maximum transparency and exchanges of information, and include the organisation of consultations at open-ended meetings.

At the end of this process, the president will sum up the informal consultations on the assessment.

The G77 had been concerned that the process of informal consultations should not become a process without an end, nor the work at the conference held hostage to the inability to reach agreed conclusions on the consultations. They were also opposed to the preparatory process becoming some kind of pre-Conference negotiations at the level of Geneva diplomats on the issues and agenda of the Conference.

G77 sources later said that the outcome in this regard largely met their concerns, while going part-way the OECD group's desire to have some preparatory consultations on the assessment.

The Conference will have four sessional bodies to deal with the four main subjects or areas on its agenda - resources for development, including financial and other resources, and related questions, commodities, international trade and problems of least developed countries (LDCS) bearing in mind the substantial new programme of action for the 1980's for the LDCS.

In view of the facilities available, no more than four official meetings could be held simultaneously. This means either the plenary and three sessional bodies, or four sessional bodies, along with any informal group meetings.

If all the facilities were fully utilise on any given day, it would preclude the holding of any night meeting or ad hoc plenary meeting or extended or evening meetings, the UNCTAD secretary-general warned in his oral report.

UNCTAD Conference sessions, normally held in third world countries do not function under such handicaps. Cuba had offered to host the meeting, but this was prevented by U.S. opposition and this ultimately led to the meeting being held in Geneva.

Some G77 sources privately complained that the UNís purported budgetary crisis was in effect being used to crib the style and functioning of UN bodies that the U.S. and its major western allies do not favour.

In view of these limitations on available facilities, the board agreed that the sessional committees would not set up any subcommittees, and no more than three committees would meet in parallel, but their meetings would be scheduled flexibly, to adapt to "the dynamic of the discussions", and to make adequate provision for group meetings and other ad hoc arrangements.

The form of the outcome of the conference, it was agreed, would depend on the substantive results achieved. But it should serve to maximise the impact of such results, and encompass all the elements comprising the main agenda item and the inter-related issues in the four key areas to be addressed at the session.

Towards this end, the Conference is to work towards the elaboration of a consolidated text, in terms of its main agenda.

The efforts of Group B countries to circumscribe this, among other things by references to the idea of an agreed assessment and the nature of policies and measures was resisted by the G77, and this took much negotiation to be resolved.

Instead the entire agenda item was spelt out.

It was also agreed that should any separate conclusion resolutions or decisions on specific aspects of the agenda be required, they would, to the maximum extent possible, be adopted by consensus.

This met the wishes of the G77 who did not want the entire outcome of the Conference be held ransom over disagreements on any particular part of a consolidated text, or the adoption of specific separate resolutions or decisions that the sessional committees might agree upon.

The Group B countries had also sought to restrict the entire negotiations in one body, and had therefore sought the establishment from the outset Conference of a contact group of the president to guide the substantive work of the Conference and to promote agreement on policy issues.

It has now been agreed that the Conference will consider the establishment of a president's contact group and this would become functional after the sessional Committees function, and the contact group will try to settle any outstanding policy issues.

A statement by the group "B" spokesman, before the report of the secretary-general was made, and endorsed by the board, had cited the views of the OECD Ministerial meeting to suggest that the Conference should be an opportunity "to discuss" with third world countries the major problems and policy issues, and that the Conference should be the occasion to establish the programme and priorities for UNCTAD in the next few years.

This appeared to rule out any UNCTAD role as a negotiating forum, and limit any decisions at the Conference to those concerned with a work programme for the secretariat and the various subordinate intergovernmental bodies in UNCTAD.

In response, the G77 said they did not look upon UNCTAD-VII as merely a forum for debate and discussion. Citing the mandate of UNCTAD and subsequent decisions on this, the G77 warned that any effort to dilute negotiating role of UNCTAD would not only be contrary to the mandate but would adversely affect the entire process of international dialogue between the G77 and others.

Passages in the Group B statement had also appeared to suggest in effect a change in the group system of negotiations, by talking about progress being achieved only "if all delegations can participate actively in the exchange of views in the framework of an informal open-ended working goups".

the G77 interpreted and these other references to be part of a veiled attempt to break up the group system of functioning in UNCTAD as well as to divide the G77.

They said these ideas would be contrary to the group system of negotiations in UNCTAD, and there should be no departures from the UNCTAD practices. Even the group system of negotiations at open-ended meetings in UNCTAD had ensured full transparency.

The group system of negotiations had as much validity now as it had when UNCTAD was founded, the G77 spokesman declared.

The G77 agreement to "open-ended" and "informal" consultations on the assessment or other policy issues should not in any way be interpreted to mean that the group system of functioning was being given up.

The G77 agreement in a spirit of compromise, to agree to strive towards an assessment, with a view to furthering a better understanding of the rationale of their specific proposals for policy measures should not mean that an agreed assessment should precede negotiations on specific measures. Nor could the group subscribe to the view that an agreed assessment was necessary to agree on feasible policies and measures to deal with specific issues and problems on the various agenda areas before the Conference.