Jun 29, 1985


GENEVA, JUNE 27 (IFDA/CHAKRAVARTHI RAGHAVAN) -- Efforts to organise a Ministerial level meeting of the Trade And Development board of the UN Conference on Trade and Development were abandoned Thursday, in the face of disagreements on what the Ministers could or could not do.

The basic disagreement arose over the hard-line U.S. position that any such Ministerial meeting should be precluded from specific negotiations or decisions, and should merely involve an exchange of views.

As a disappointed West European diplomat put in on Thursday, "seldom have so many bureaucrats and diplomats spent so much time and effort over the last two years to see how their political masters, the Ministers of sovereign countries, could be prevented from taking any decisions or actions".

The idea of periodic Ministerial level meetings of the Trade and Development Board, in between the four-yearly sessions of the conference, was mooted at Nairobi in 1976, and supported at Manila in 1979.

Since then it has been on the UNCTAD agenda in one form or another, but without any progress.

A specific proposal of the Group of 77 at UNCTAD-VI in Belgrade for periodic meetings of the board at Ministerial level was referred to the board for consideration and action.

Norway proposed such a meeting at the board in 1984, and an interim committee of the board was set up to negotiate and agree on the agenda and other issues for the convening of a meeting.

At the final plenary of the 14th special session of the board on Thursday evening, Amb. Julio Lacarte Muro of Uruguay, the President of the board made a brief oral report of the failure of the interim committee to evolve an agreement.

The board thereupon terminated the mandate of the interim committee, and thus abandoned efforts to set up a Ministerial meeting.

Due to the differences on this issue among and within groups, none of the group spokesmen made any comments or references.

In the formal and informal consultations over the last two years, the OECD group of countries, reflecting primarily the hard-line position of the U.S.A. and a couple of its supporters, have been against any such Ministerial meeting that could raise the level of participation in and importance of UNCTAD.

The United States has been insisting that any such Ministerial meeting in UNCTAD should be only for exchange of views, and should not result in any decisions or actions.

The Group of 77, supported by China and the Socialists, have generally favoured meetings that would result in action-oriented decisions.

Over the last two years there have been protracted formal and informal consultations and negotiations on this issue.

The Group of 77 gave considerable ground in these consultations, and were agreeable for a general rather than a specific agenda for such a session, and merely enabling Ministers to undertake a review of the world economic situation and discussion of substantive issues in the areas of competence of UNCTAD and possibilities for increasing its effectiveness.

In this view of the Group of 77, the Ministers would be free to do what they wanted as a result of the discussions.

However, they refused to agree to a meeting where the Ministers would be merely coming to Geneva for delivering speeches and having social get-togethers, and would be precluded from taking any decisions or actions.

While various semantic formulations were attempted to paper over these differences between the OECD group of countries and others, the efforts were finally abandoned by the interim committee of the board on Wednesday evening.

At the interim committee, the U.S.A., supported by U.K. and Canada, reportedly made clear that the differences on the issue could not be "papered over", and they were doubtful on the utility of a Ministerial meeting in UNCTAD, and of the Ministers doing anything more than meet and exchange views.

"We do not envisage the Ministerial meeting being anything more than the recent Stockholm meeting", one of these diplomats reportedly told the interim committee Wednesday evening.

The reference was to the recent informal meeting of selected Trade Ministers of the industrial and Third World countries, organised by Sweden in Stockholm early in June in an effort to promote a new round of trade negotiations in GATT.

Some westerns sources said they had the impression that the U.S. was particularly against any Ministerial meeting in UNCTAD, since it was "suspicious" that any such event might undercut its efforts in GATT to organise a high-level meeting, and a new round of negotiations including on services issue.

The U.S. and its supporters apparently were merely willing to agree to a get together of Ministers in UNCTAD, but with the specific agreed caveat against their taking any decisions or actions, and use this as a concession to the Group of 77 in return for their agreeing to the GATT high-level meetings and new round.

The Group of 77 refused to accept this.

Both Group of 77 and OECD group sources said that it was not as if each of the two groups were united in their respective stands, and this made any compromises even more difficult.

Within the OECD group, while the U.S.A., supported by U.K. and Canada took a hard-line position, some of the west Europeans, particularly the Nordics, were keen on an UNCTAD Ministerial level meeting at least to raise the prestige and morale of the organisation, and provide a fillip to the north-south dialogue.

And within the Group of 77, while the Latin American group appeared somewhat agreeable to hold a Ministerial meeting, even with the type of restrictions that the U.S. sought, the others were not agreeable to this.

The Asians wanted the Ministers to be free, if they chose, to agree on substantive results and promote progress in the north-south dialogue within UNCTADís competence. The Africans felt that the Ministerial meeting should be able to go even beyond this and result in a final document of sorts.