When the Group of 77 (G-77) emerged on the world economic scene at the end of the first United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in 1964, it was hailed in a front page headline of the prestigious Sunday Observer, a London weekly, as "the most important phenomenon of the Post-War period". When the first UNCTAD convened, the Group was already functional, but it had 75 members, including Australia and New Zealand. By the end of the Conference, G-75 was transformed into G-77 with the exit of Australia and New Zealand and the entry of four more developing countries. The first substantive and authoritative document issued by G-77 was its Declaration containing an assessment of the outcome of the Conference and outlining the objectives to be pursued in the future, particularly through the UNCTAD forum. It was a seminal document in which the developing countries proclaimed for the first time their resolve to work for a new international order. This was a decade before the adoption by the United Nations General Assembly of the Declaration and Plan of Action for the Establishment of a New International Order.
Soon after UNCTAD I, G-77 emerged as the most important forum of the developing countries for harmonizing their views on global economic issues, evolving common positions on these issues and advancing new ideas and strategies for negotiations with developed countries. It became legally institutionalized in UNCTAD through the resolution adopted at UNCTAD I and later endorsed by the General Assembly, establishing the Trade and Development Board, the executive organ of UNCTAD. It then spread out to most other UN bodies and organizations including the UN Specialized Agencies and also those dealing with political, security and human rights issues, and became firmly entrenched in each of them. It is very difficult to imagine how all these bodies and organizations could have concluded the far-reaching agreements they did during the last 50 years on norms, principles, rules, regimes and frameworks, including formal treaties, without the availability of this forum. Thus, G-77 is inextricably linked with the monumental corpus of international public goods that has been developed and accumulated over the last half century. But for the existence and functioning of G-77, the international community would have been lagging far behind in the pursuit of its civilizational goals, deeper in chaos and much more unstable and vulnerable than it is today.
As G-77 is embedded in the United Nations, its impact and effectiveness and its achievements and failures have been largely dependent on the rise and fall and the success and failure of the United Nations. The Group functioned extraordinarily effectively and vigourously during the longest part of the golden era of international economic cooperation under the United Nations, that is, from 1964 to the late 1970s. Its decline started from the beginning of the decline of the United Nations from the early 1980s. There is a consensus that this outcome was brought about by a well planned and concerted attack on the UN by major developed countries. There is no way to restore G-77 to its past glory and dynamism without restoring to the United Nations its Charter functions snatched away from it and without reconstructing its capacities which have been systematically dismantled over the last three decades.
I was present at the time of the creation of G-77 and remained associated with it until my retirement from the Indian Foreign Service at the end of 1991. At UNCTAD I, as a member of the Indian team in the Fifth Committee of the Conference, I participated in the negotiations on "Principles Governing World Trade and Trade Policies Conducive to Development". While negotiating in this Committee, we genuinely believed that we were engaged in the historic task of changing the rules of the game and laying down new principles, norms and rules governing the world economic system. We in the G-77 took our task to be to bring about a change in the status quo against its dogged and...