September 2000


The political leaders of Nigeria, Algeria, Jamaica and Malaysia recently met for two days in London to finalise their proposals to set up a new coordinating body for the South. If their report is endorsed by a special meeting of political heads of all developing countries in September, then the South Coordination Commission will come into being to assist the South in having a bigger say in global economic and social affairs.

By Martin Khor

Third World Network Features

The political heads of four developing countries met in London recently to discuss plans for setting up a coordinating body for the South to enhance South-South cooperation as well as strengthen its negotiating position in relation to the North.

They finalised a report on establishing a South Coordination Commission, which they will present to other heads of government or state of the Group of 77 (an umbrella body of 132 developing countries) at a special meeting to be held in New York at the time of the Millennium Assembly of the United Nations in September.

A significant step has thus been taken to get the countries of the South to work more closely together to face challenges such as globalisation, the financial crisis, multilateral trade negotiations, debt, poverty and environmental problems.

The four leaders, comprising Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Jamaican Prime Minister P J Patterson and Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, are members of an Implementation Group set up during the South Summit of the G77 held in Havana in April.

A fifth member, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, was unable to come and his country was represented by its High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Ms Cheryl Carolus.

The group of five leaders, led by Obasanjo, who had presided over the South Summit, had been charged by the Summit with the task of establishing a Coordination Commission to coordinate the implementation of the Summit’s Programme of Action.

That Programme contains dozens of proposals on how to strengthen the South’s bargaining position vis-a-vis the rich countries in areas such as globalisation, debt, global financial reform, trade and negotiations at the World Trade Organisation. The Programme also proposes many areas of South-South cooperation in economic and social areas.

The idea of setting up a high-level Coordination Commission made up of heads of government or state of developing countries was first mooted during a closed-door ‘interactive session’ of the political heads during the South Summit.

At that meeting, the Malaysian Prime Minister had raised concerns that the rich countries were making decisions in meetings such as those of the Group of 7 which had effects on developing countries, yet the developing countries were not invited to participate at such meetings.

The Summit later passed a resolution, proposed by Malaysia, that the countries of the South must be equitably represented in any forum deliberating and deciding on social, economic and political matters which can adversely or otherwise affect countries of the South.

‘The Group of 77 will not consider any social, economic or political architecture decided without equitable representation,’ said the Summit decision.

Another Summit decision was that a Coordination Commission, with a Coordinator, would be set up, made up of a G77 Council chaired by the South Summit President (Obasanjo), the G77 Coordinator, the chairperson of the Non-Aligned Movement, and the chairpersons of regional bodies of the South such as ASEAN, CARICOM (representing Caribbean countries), OAU (the Organisation of African Unity) and the Arab League.

The group of five leaders (now known as the Implementation Group) was also created to be responsible for establishing the Commission on behalf of the Summit and to give a report to the G77 as a whole within six months.

Most of these leaders met during the Group of 15 Summit held in Cairo in June. They agreed to meet again in London to finalise their report.

At the London meeting, held on 23-24 August at the Nigerian High Commissioner’s residence, the leaders held two media conferences and issued a statement.

Besides announcing that they had finalised their report, which will be submitted to a Special Meeting of G77 Heads of State and Government in New York, the statement said that the Heads took the opportunity to exchange views on a number of issues of pressing importance to developing countries.

This included ‘a review of the globalisation process, specific issues of trade and the WTO, global financial reforms, debt and debt relief, access to technology and environmental issues.

‘Their discussion on all these matters reinforced the need acknowledged at Havana for the South to be more effectively organised at the technical level on both South-South and North-South issues.’

In concluding their Report, the Implementation Group underlined the historic importance of this development at a most critical time for the developing countries as the global economy enters a new and largely unchartered area with challenges of immense proportions for the countries of the South.

The statement added that the meeting emphasised the critical significance of the establishment of the South Coordination Commission in furtherance of the vision of the late President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania.

The London meeting is being seen as an important move by some leaders of the developing world to secure a more effective voice in internationa affairs.

According to a report in The Guardian, a London daily: ‘The group is angry at the way the developing world has been excluded from decisions taken by such organisations as the Group of Seven, which represents the wealthiest countries.

‘The two-day meeting (in London) was the most serious attempt by the developing world to acquire political muscle since the Non-Aligned Movement lost influence.’

The Guardian quoted a source close to the discussions as saying: ‘They are concerned about decisions taken by the rich club and then they have to pick up the tab.’

The next step in establishing the new South Coordination Commission will be the Summit-level New York meeting of the G77 in September. If it approves the report prepared recently in London, then the Commission will be set up, with the appointment of a Coordinator and a Secretariat.

Work can then be expected to begin in assisting developing countries to prepare themselves better in international forums such as the United Nations, the WTO and the International Monetary Fund. - Third World Network Features


About the writer: Martin Khor is Director of the Third World Network.