Jul 14, 1987


GENEVA, JULY 11 (IFDA/CHAKRAVARTHI RAGHAVAN) – The crisis in the world economy, and the wretched conditions under which much of the third world peoples are living with little hope for the future in the face of retrogression in development was the major focus of the speeches and addresses in UNCTAD-VII, as it opened its general debate.

Four heads of states/governments, and eight Ministers, spoke on the first day of the debate underscoring the dangers faced by the north and the south, if concerted efforts to reverse course through multilateralism were not taken.

Only the ninth Minister, from Pakistan, Dismissed the "non-specific, non-actionable agenda", and chose to fire a few pot shots at UNCTAD, as an institution and secretariat, and the G77, echoing in a sense the U.S. views on UNCTAD these days.

But while a high tone was being set in the plenary debate by the others, including the French President and Norwegian Prime Minister on need for actions and injection of political will into the north-south dialogue, at officials-level the conference was deadlocked and unable even to elect its officers and bureau, and constitute the four major commissions to look into policies and measures in the four sectoral areas on the agenda.

At issue was the question whether the four commissions dealing with the issues should start an "assessment" exercise and first agree on a common assessment or they could begin considering, discussing, and negotiating the various policies and measures to revitalise development, growth and international trade.

The deadlock on this issue at one stage on Thursday threatened even to held up the opening of the general debate in the plenary, and block addresses by the heads of states/governments at the plenary.

Several in the Group of 77 felt that the "Group B" countries (members of the OECD) were trying to prevent any negotiations by insisting on prior assessments, and were not even ready to accept the compromise of a parallel track approach – assessment to be carried on a separate exercise, while the commissions go to work on proposals and measures.

However, in deference to the announced programmes of the four heads of state/governments, the Group of 77 greed to allow the plenary proceedings to go forward, but held up the announcement of the agreed slate on chairmanships of the sessional committees, pending a satisfactory resolution of the issue of start of negotiations on substantive policies and measures.

In accordance with a decision of the trade and development board in May, its president Saad Alfarargi of Egypt had organised an informal mechanism, open to all members, to conduct an assessment exercise, and at the end he had put forward a paper in the form of his own summing up of the outcome of the assessment process.

A paragraph in the paper said that to the extent that the assessment process needs to be complemented during the conference, a parallel track might be established.

"However", it added, "immediate discussions on policies and measures should not be impeded by any continuation of the assessment process. Furthermore, results achieved in the discussions on policies and measures could be a feed-back for enhancing progress on the completion of the assessment process".

When the informal assessment mechanism was launched, at the insistence of the Group B, it was intended to complete the process before the conference commenced, but the Group B countries managed to prolong the process by not clearing the Alfarargi text, and have succeeded in spilling the issue over into the conference, and reducing the time for any serious negotiations on any issue.

In the meanwhile, statements and remarks by some of them, and even the EEC speech in the plenary, made clear that the group or its important members were going to insist on starting the assessment exercise all over again in the conference in a formal way, and that the little time the conference has for negotiations would be lost.

Even more, remarks of some of them, made it clear that the negotiating processes at the conference was going to be held hostage to an agreement on assessment, where the OECD worldview of the current and future directions of the world economy should prevail.

This brought a reaction form the G77, and a united one, that the any agreement at the "pre-conference" meeting of senior officials on bureau and chairmanships of various commissions, should be made contingent on an understanding that immediate discussions and formulation of policies and measures at UNCTAD-VII should not be impeded by any continuation of the assessment process, which might be complemented in a parallel track.

At this stage while the Group B seemed ready to swallow the Alfarargi paper (which was on his own responsibility and did not bind them), they were not ready to formalise and commit themselves to the parallel track approach to assessment.

After considerable informal consultations, Alfarargi would appear to have put forward some ideas as a solution:

--The assessment work would not hold up consideration of policies and measures in sessional committees,

--Alfarargi would send to the president of the Conference his summing-up paper (to enable the president to take up the issue further if needed), and

--The plenary of the senior officials would be held on monday to formally approve and recommend the chairmen and other bureau members.

The G77, while not happy with it, sought clarifications on a number of points, including whether (as the summing-up paper) it would be only on Alfarargi’s own authority, a Group B clarification of its position, or an understanding that would be formalised and recorded.

G77 sources said Saturday morning that the clarifications sought would be available to them only on Monday, and the issue still remained unsettled.