The early days of the group of 77.

Author:Sauvant, Karl P.
 
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In December 1961, the United Nations General As-sembly designated the 1960s as the "United Nations Development Decade".(1) At the same time, it also adopted a resolution on "International Trade as the Primary Instrument for Economic Development",(2) in which the United Nations Secretary-General was asked to consult governments on the advisability of holding an international conference on international trade problems. These resolutions led to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Their underlying developmental model--trade as the motor of development--shaped the outlook and approach of the new institution.

After obtaining favourable reactions from most governments and strong support from a developing countries' Conference on the Problems of Economic Development held in Cairo in July 1962,(3) the United Nations General Assembly decided to convene the first session of UNCTAD.(4) A Preparatory Committee was established to consider the agenda of the Conference and to prepare the necessary documentation. During the deliberations of the Preparatory Committee--in identifying the relevant issues and problems, endeavouring to list proposals for action, and indicating lines along which solutions might be sought--the divergence of the interests of the developing countries from those of the developed countries began to emerge sharply. The distinctive interests of the Third World manifested themselves at the closing of the second session of the Preparatory Committee (21 May to 29 June 1963), when representatives of the developing countries submitted a "Joint Statement" to the Committee in which they summarized the views, needs and aspirations of the Third World with regard to the impending UNCTAD session.(5) Later that year, this Statement was submitted to the General Assembly as a "Joint Declaration" on behalf of 75 developing countries that were members of the United Nations at that time.(6) This Declaration was the prelude to the establishment of the Group of 77 (G-77).

UNCTAD I met in Geneva from 23 March to 16 June 1964. It was the first major North-South conference on development questions. During the negotiations at that conference, economic interests clearly crystallized along geopolitical group lines, and the developing countries emerged as a group that was beginning to find its own. The "Joint Declaration of the Seventy-Seven", adopted on 15 June 1964, referred to UNCTAD I as "an event of historic significance"; it continued:

"The developing countries regard their own unity, the unity of the seventy-five, as the outstanding feature of this Conference. This unity has sprung out of the fact that facing the basic problems of development they have a common interest in a new policy for international trade and development. They believe that it is this unity that has given clarity and coherence to the discussions of this Conference. Their solidarity has been tested in the course of the Conference and they have emerged from it with even greater unity and strength. The developing countries have a strong conviction that there is a vital need to maintain, and further strengthen, this unity in the years ahead. It is an indispensable instrument for securing the adoption of new attitudes and new approaches in the international economic field. This unity is also an instrument for enlarging the area of co-operative endeavour in the international field and for securing mutually beneficent relationships with the rest of the world. Finally, it is a necessary means for co-operation amongst the developing countries themselves. The seventy-five developing countries, on the occasion of this declaration, pledge themselves to maintain, foster and strengthen this unity in the future. Towards this end they shall adopt all possible means to increase the contacts and consultations amongst themselves so as to determine common objectives and formulate joint programmes of action in international economic co-operation. They consider that measures for consolidating the unity achieved by the seventy-five countries during the Conference and the specific arrangements for contacts and consultations should be studied by government representatives during the nineteenth session of the United Nations General Assembly."(7) Although the recommendations adopted by UNCTAD I were, to a large extent, inspired by the conceptual work undertaken in the preceding decade by the Economic Commission for Latin America--whose Executive Secretary, Rani Prebisch, became the Secretary-General of UNCTAD I and stayed in that post as one of the principal promoters of Third World unity until 1969(8)--the conference was nonetheless a new departure: for the first time, the Third World as a whole had participated in the elaboration of a comprehensive set of measures.(9) Accordingly, "new" was the theme of the "Joint Declaration of the Seventy-Seven": UNCTAD I was recognized as a significant step towards "creating a new and just world economic order"; the basic premises of the "new order" were seen to involve "a new international division of labour" and "a new framework of international trade"; and the adoption of "a new and dynamic international policy for trade and development" was expected to facilitate the formulation of "new policies by the governments of both developed and developing countries in the context of a new awareness of the needs of developing countries". Finally, a "new machinery" was considered necessary to serve as an institutional focal point for the continuation of the work initiated by the conference.

This machinery was established later that year, when the General Assembly decided to institutionalize UNCTAD as an organ of the General Assemblyi(10) UNCTAD became the main forum for global development discussions, and--guided by the expectations voiced in 1964--it became the focal point of the activities of the G-77, which, by April 2014, counted 133 members(11) (United Nations membership totaled 193). During that period, the G-77 became an integral part of UNCTAD and was one of the most important agents for the socialization of the developing countries in matters relating to international political economy, and established itself firmly in all major relevant parts of the United Nations system as the Third World's principal organ for the articulation and aggregation of its collective economic interest and for its representation in the negotiations with the developed countries.(12)

No one has formulated the political point of departure of the Third World more succinctly than Julius K. Nyerere when he said in his address to the Fourth Ministerial Meeting of the G-77 in Arusha, in February 1979:

"What we have in common is that we are all, in relation to the developed world, dependent--not interdepend-ent--nations. Each of our economies has developed as a by-product and a subsidiary of development in the industrialized North, and it is externally oriented. We are not the prime movers of our own destiny. We are ashamed to admit it, but economically we are dependencies--semi-colonies at best--not sovereign States."(13) The objective is, therefore, quite naturally, "to complete the liberation of the Third World countries from...

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