September 24, 2023

Not the Time for Begging, Calls the G-77 Summit

R Arun Kumar

IN the season of summits, one summit went unnoticed. It is the G-77 Summit organised in Havana, Cuba. G-77 as a group was founded in 1964, by 77 non-aligned nations. India is one of the founding members of this group. Currently the group has 134 developing countries as members and after the UN, it is the largest representative forum of the global south. The black-out of all news of such an important group clearly establishes the elitist bias. Not surprisingly, Indian government too went with such a bias by not sending a minister to lead our delegation in the summit.

The G-77 first took shape during the meeting of United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) held in 1964. Its emergence was hailed as the ‘most important phenomenon’ after the Second World War. Initially the grouping consisted of 75 countries including Australia and New Zealand, which of course immediately disassociated themselves. But four more developing countries joined the process, which made it G-77.

The first meeting of the G-77 came out with a declaration containing their assessment of the international world order, the functioning of the UNCTAD and the objectives they would pursue in the future. It unequivocally declared the need to ‘work for a new international order’. With this understanding, the initial summits of the G-77 debated global economic issues, hammered out common positions on these issues, advanced new ideas and evolved joint positions to strategise their positions while dealing with developed countries. The group was institutionalised in the UNCTAD through a resolution. The formation of the Trade and Development Board, an executive organ of the UNCTAD is a result of the efforts of this group. Gradually, the impact of the G-77 was felt in other organs of the UN too. It was incorporated into various other organisations and UN bodies that dealt with issues like security, political and human rights issues. The G-77 definitely left an imprint on all the negotiations and decisions that were evolved through these bodies.

The glory days of the G-77 faded with the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. The setback to socialism in the late 1980s left a huge impact on the functioning of the UN too. The emergence of a unipolar world, with the imperialist US as a dominating force weakened multilateralism and hence the UN too. As there is no countervailing force, the US went on to bypass the UN and its institutions. The UN Charter lost its pre-eminence as a guiding force in international relations. This was a huge blow to the developing countries, which were until then actively supported by the USSR and other socialist countries. With a loss of this support, the developing countries became vulnerable to the coercion of US. The US also successfully used its many allies within the G-77 to disrupt its functioning and prevent it from coming to common positions on economic and political issues.

As the developed countries refused to side with the developing countries in resisting the Dunkell Draft, GATT, trade in services, the G-77 lost its sheen. Whenever a substantial issue was sought to be taken up, these countries raised some procedural issue to stall the discussions. The change in the Indian government’s foreign policy prerogatives too diluted its positions as can be seen on the issue of trade in services, TRIPS. 

The Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) used the collapse of Soviet Union as an opportunity to change the very modalities of the functioning of the G-77. Till then, issues used to be resolved after democratic discussions through a vote, showcasing the strength of the bonding within the group. The OECD using the post-Soviet collapse vulnerabilities of the developing countries, insisted on consensus to arrive at decisions. As consensus eluded, the G-77 slowly began to lose its influence in world affairs.

It is in such a changed reality that the G-77 Summits are being held. The developing countries, mainly from Africa and Latin America still consider it as a platform to voice their concerns and grievances. This year, the G-77 was presided by Cuba and the broad theme for the Summit was ‘Current Development Challenges: Role of Science, Technology and Innovation’. The agenda consisted of discussions on the new international economic order, reform of the global financial architecture, rejection of unilateral coercive measures, concentration of wealth and the weight of the external debt. The Summit is now called as G-77+China, as China has become a regular and active participant in these meetings.

The secretary general of the UN, António Guterres, in his address called this Summit as the voice of the global south. He said that the contribution of the G-77 is important because it gives a strong push for ‘an essential change that we want to approve at the United Nations, in order to promote reforms and the mobilisation of resources in support of the global south’. “At this moment, the voice of the south is essential for the necessary profound reforms to be made in the international financial architecture. We have institutions that were created after World War II. Many of the countries present here did not exist at that time and did not have a voice”.

Rubbishing the argument that there is no money for the realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), he pointed out that Africa pays more for debt service than for education and health budgets. IMF and the World Bank are two major creditors to the African nations. The loans disbursed by these financial institutions come with many conditions that impoverish countries. Unless this financial architecture is changed, there is no hope for realising the SDGs. For this reason, there is an urgent and profound need to reform the international financial architecture, which is archaic. They neither do reflect the changed realities, nor meet the needs of the developing countries.

Colombian president Gustavo Petro clearly voiced these concerns. “We have all learned that debt must be canceled, not forgiven so that we can start a new financing system”. The voices that were heard in the Summit reflected the genuine concerns and aspirations of the developing countries.

The president of the African Union, Azali Assoumani pointed that the Summit in Havana is an ‘opportunity for developing countries to lay the foundations for a common reflection with the aim of protecting our populations from the consequences in terms of security, governance, and everything related to science and technology that is not controlled’.

The Cubans have proposed the need to establish a network of universities and research centres to reinforce the exchange of knowledge among G-77 members. Miguel Díaz-Canel pointed out that 90 per cent of the investment in innovation in the pharmaceutical sector is concentrated on typical diseases of northern countries and only 10 per cent on typical diseases of southern countries. In order to ensure that science and technology benefits developing countries it was felt that exclusive research centres to address the specific issues confronting them are an urgent necessity.

Underlining this need, Bolivian vice-president David Choquehuanca called for the ‘decolonisation of the current world scientific order’ to ensure ‘solutions for multiple global crises’. He categorically stated: “We cannot continue walking along the Western capitalist path, which is to blame for the existence of poverty in the world”. The alternative he recommended was, “building our own path from our roots, values and codes of the culture of life”.

President of Cuba, Miguel Díaz-Canel started his inaugural address pointing out to the austere arrangements for the Summit. He asked for forgiveness for any shortcomings that the delegates might encounter and said that the more than six decade old economic blockade, which was recently intensified, constrained Cuba and its resources. Diaz-Canel had quoted Hugo Chavez to rub his point: “We presidents go from summit to summit, and the peoples go from abyss to abyss”. The Cuban approach is in quite contrast to the approach of the Indian government which had spent hundreds of crores of rupees on hosting a much lesser participated G-20 summit. That these monies were spent, ignoring the vital needs of the people, further contrasts Cuban approach.

Commenting on the economic backwardness of the global south, Diaz-Canel made a very important point: “Many of our nations are labeled poor whereas they should properly be referred to as pauperised”. He recalled the role of colonialism in pauperising global south and said, “the need is to rectify a situation which centuries of colonial and neocolonial dependence have left us in: it is unjust and the South can no longer bear the deadweight of all the problems”.

Diaz-Canel accused the developed countries of weaponising science and technology and using them to impose burdens on global south, which is leading to an increase in poverty and hunger to levels unseen since 2005.

“It explains why, in the so-called Third World, over 84 million children are without schooling and over 660 million have no electricity; why only 36 per cent of the population use the internet in the least advanced countries and the landlocked developing nations, compared with 92 per cent in the industrialised world…the average cost of a smartphone represents 2 per cent of monthly income per head in America, while the corresponding statistic in South Asia is 53 per cent and in sub-Saharan Africa 39 per cent”.

The pandemic had further accentuated these inequalities and he gave an example of anti-Covid vaccines. “Just ten manufacturers accounted for 70 per cent of anti Covid-19 vaccine production…As a result, developing countries had only 24 doses of vaccines per 100 inhabitants, while the corresponding number for the richest countries was almost 150”.

Comparing the growing military expenditures and how this money could be put to benefit humanity, Diaz-Canel gave some interesting statistics. “In 2022 alone, global military spending reached a record 2.24 trillion dollars….Achieving universal and inclusive participation in the digital economy will require at least 428 billion dollars to be invested in our countries by 2030, a demand that can be met with just 19 per cent of global military spending….9 per cent of global military spending could finance climate change adaptation over 10 years (proposed by the Global Commission on Adaptation) and 7 per cent would be sufficient to cover the cost of universal vaccination against Covid-19”.

Diaz-Canel explained how the developed countries together with the international financial institutions are siphoning off money from the developing countries through their credit policies. “The nations of the South have faced interest rates up to 8 times higher than those charged to developed countries. About one-fifth of developing economies liquidated more than 15 per cent of their international foreign exchange reserves to cushion the pressure on domestic currencies. In 2022, 25 developing nations had to devote more than one-fifth of their total income to servicing public external debt, which is tantamount to a new form of slavery”.

Pooh-poohing the argument that international financial institutions work towards alleviating poverty and hunger in developing countries, he gave the example of the IMF. “The International Monetary Fund's financial support for the least developed countries and other low-income countries, from 2020 to late November 2022, was no more than what the Coca Cola Company has spent on advertising its brand alone in the last 8 years”. So much for their benevolence!

He ended his speech with a very important and relevant quote from Fidel Castro. “As for the Group of 77, this is not the time for begging from the developed countries or for submission, defeatism or internecine divisions. This is the time to rescue back our fighting spirit, our unity and cohesion in defending our demands. Fifty years ago we were promised that one day there would no longer be a gap between developed and underdeveloped countries. We were promised bread and justice; but today we have less and less bread and more injustice.”

Diaz-Canel stated that these words are a ‘confirmation of the long road we have traveled together and of all the rights we have to demand the overdue changes’.

Diaz-canel concluded by calling the more than 114 countries attending the Summit to focus their energies to reflect on strategies, tactics and ways of coordination. “Let us recover that fighting spirit, traditional knowledge, creative thinking and collective wisdom. Let us fight for our right to development, which is also the right to exist as a species”. Yes, the need is to unite and fight.