by Martin Khor

Havana, 11 April 2000 -- The South Summit of the Group of 77 began here Tuesday with a meeting of senior officials to prepare the documents that are expected to be approved by the heads of government and state later this week.

Hundreds of officials from about a hundred developing countries have been streaming into Havana since Monday for this first ever Summit-level meeting of the Group of 77, the umbrella body of the developing world dealing with economic and social matters.

On Tuesday there will be a meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, the highlight of which will be an interactive debate among the Ministers on the role of the United Nations in the 21st century.

The Summit proper on 12-14 April will hear speeches from 51 heads of state and governments (at the latest count) as well as 41 heads of delegation. The inaugural ceremony will be addressed by UN secretary general Kofi Annan, Nigerian President Chief Olusegun Obasanjo (chair of the G77), South African President Thabo Mbeki (chairman of the Non- Aligned Movement) and the host country's leader, President Fidel Castro.

Among the other countries that will be represented by their top political leaders include China, Indonesia, Pakistan, Algeria, Malaysia, Palestine, Iran, Jamaica, Zimbabwe, Argentina, Uganda, Ghana, Mozambique, Ecuador, and Vietnam.

The leaders will adopt a Declaration of the South Summit as well as a Programme of Action. There will also be a short statement on South-South cooperation that will include a list of proposed projects.

Today the senior officials met in three working groups in an attempt to finalise the three documents. The debate on the Declaration and the Action Programme proved to be more detailed, substantial and lengthy than expected.

The drafts of these two main documents had already been prepared by the G77 Member countries' diplomats in New York over the past many months and had arrived without square brackets in Havana. However many delegations proposed substantial revisions in many paragraphs in both documents today. The discussions are to continue after dinner and are expected to last till late in the night.

Both documents deal with the Summit's four main themes: globalisation of the world economy, North-South relations, South-South cooperation, knowledge and technology.

The Draft Declaration, before revision, contains 48 paragraphs. It reaffirms the spirit and validity of the G77 and its objectives; notes that the South has been excluded from the benefits of globalisation, and calls for international financial reforms. The declaration also covers aid, financing for development, debt, LDCs, South-South cooperation and concerns over economic sanctions and coercive economic measures.

However, its lengthiest section is on trade and the trading system, including concerns over the South's lack of benefits from liberalisation, imbalances in the WTO and the need of the South for greater flexibility over policies. The draft Declaration calls for extension in implementation periods for the TRIPS and TRIMS Agreement and an indepth review of TRIPS so that the IPR regime can respond to the needs of the South.

In today's discussion on the Declaration, several countries proposed revisions to many of the paragraphs, including on the trading system. However most of the original points on trade have been retained.

The 18-page draft Programme on Action contains sections on globalisation, knowledge and technology, South-South cooperation, North-South relations and institutional follow-up.

Each section contains a brief outline of the problem, followed by several proposed actions and measures. In all, the draft contains 81 proposed actions.

Among the draft's more concrete proposals are:

* The convening of a high-level advisory group of eminent personalities to prepare a report on globalisation (in today's discussion it was decided the report would be presented to the G77 Ministerial Meeting in 2001);

* Establishing a G77 science and technology award for individuals from the South;

* Establishing a trust fund to promote knowledge and technology in the South;

* Convening a high-level conference on South-South cooperation in 2003;

* Strengthening the office of the G77 Chairman in New York through an annual contribution of US$5,000 per Member.

* Establishing a special fund with a target of US$10 million to implement and follow up on the South Summit decisions.

* Establishing a research programme including through links with research institutions in the South to carry out analyses relevant to the G77's work.

* Convening a second G77 Summit in 2005.

These proposals are still being debated and it is not clear how many of them will be in the final document.

Another working group today finalised a brief statement on South-South cooperation. It also went through and adopted many proposals put forward on potential South-South projects in several fields, including agriculture, health, education, science, environment, finance and trade.

Most of the project initiatives were put forward by the host country, Cuba. There were also proposals from Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Mauritius, among others. But it was unclear whether and how the financing would be arranged.

As the curtain opened on the Summit through the senior officials' meeting today, many officials and other participants were quietly speculating whether the Summit would in the end meet its objectives of revitalising the South.

Former UNCTAD secretary-general Gamani Corea was of the view that the fact that this first G77 Summit was being held at all was an achievement in itself, as there had been past failed attempts to organise such a Summit. The holding of the Summit, he said, demonstrated the feeling of South leaders and countries that the G77 and its goals were still relevant, despite the many changes in the world.

This was a view that was quite prevalent at Havana's conference centre today. However, some participants also voiced the feeling that there was not much new in the documents, nor was there any visible sign that there would be a new political will to move the South's cause forward.

Some senior officials also wondered how best to fill the time of their Ministers and heads of government so that their participation would prove worthwhile.

Besides a three-hour "interactive dialogue" among the heads of state and governments on the themes of the Summit on 13 April morning, the programme of the three-day Summit proper contains presentation of statements by the leaders, and lunch and dinner receptions for them, besides a final session to adopt the documents and a closing ceremony. (SUNS4646)

Martin Khor is the Director of Third World Network.

The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) of which Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor.

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