Needed: A collective voice in the G20 for developing countries

| May 17, 2012

Sir Ronald Sanders – Caribbean Diplomat

Between 10 and 14 May, two meetings took place that were of significance to the people of developing countries, particularly small states.  The outcomes of the meetings will depend on the unity of developing states in advancing their common causes, and the readiness of leaders to champion them.

At the first meeting in Brussels the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the 79-nation African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) agreed to join forces in fostering south-south cooperation, promoting inclusive economic growth as a vehicle for sustainable development in developing countries, and providing support for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

Regrettably, while they signed a Memorandum of Understanding, they limited the action they would take to “the exchange of information and views”.

Still, even this small step with the UNDP is better than nothing.  In recent years, the ACP has weakened itself by abandoning the strong unity that resulted from an accord in 1975 in Guyana in which the Group pledged unity and solidarity among its members and agreed to promote sustainable development and the gradual integration of the ACP States into the global economy.

The 79 ACP members include 40 Least Developed Countries and 36 Small Island Developing States. Individually, the majority of them are among the weakest nations in the world, but in the two and a half decades from 1975 to 2000 they found enough strength in their unity to secure advantageous aid, trade and investment treaties with the European Union (EU).

However, in the first decade of this century, they allowed the EU to fragment them in the negotiations for an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). The consequence has been a skewered and unfair arrangement.

Fault for the disappointing EPAs does not rest with the EU alone.  The ACP group has also failed to collaborate effectively in analysing the weaknesses and strengths of their member states and regions, and to provide collectively their own pool of experts to overcome hurdles and take advantage of such opportunities and funding as the EPAs provide.

If the ACP Secretariat in Brussels were properly resourced by its member

President Felipe Calderon. Photo courtesy edition.cnn.com

governments, it could strengthen bargaining for countries and regions and help unlock barriers to EU markets and funding.

At the ceremony between the UNDP and the ACP, the ACP Secretary-General, Dr Mohamed Ibn Chambas said: “The ACP Group embodies a coalition of most of the poorest countries on earth, striving for a collective voice in the global arena, while sharing and drawing from each other’s experiences in the spirit of south-south solidarity and cooperation”.

He voiced the aspiration in which he is a firm believer, but unfortunately, there has been little sign of a “collective voice” for the ACP and not enough support for a strong Secretariat manned by well-qualified and experienced persons drawn from the entire grouping.

Still, the Secretary-General must continue to summon the ACP Group to uphold and promote the objectives they set-out in the 1975 Georgetown Agreement.  It would re-assert the strength of a core group of developing countries that is sorely needed.

The second meeting was one between the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Kamalesh Sharma, and the President of Mexico Felipe Calderón on 14 May.  President Calderón will host a Summit meeting of the G20, the world’s richest economies, on 18 and 19 June.

Sharma was accompanied to the meeting by a representative of La Francophonie. The Commonwealth comprises 54 member countries while La Francophonie comprises 56 countries, 10 of which are also members of the Commonwealth.  For the most part, the 100-member countries of the two organisations are developing countries, many of them small states.

The meeting with President Calderón was important because, as Sharma put it, “Ninety per cent of global GDP may be represented at the G20 table, but ninety per cent of the world’s countries are not represented around that table. The G20’s solutions to today’s global crises and economic challenges can only be truly global solutions if they take into account the priorities and concerns of poor and vulnerable states who are the majority. This is a question of strengthening the legitimacy and relevance of the G20’s work to the wider world.”

Sharma identified to the Mexican President, four priority areas for developing states.  These are: financing for development, tackling debt, promoting green growth and food security.

Additionally, a technical team from the Commonwealth Secretariat is “making practical policy contributions to the G20’s Development Working Group at the technical level, to ensure that the needs of non-G20 countries are factored into the policy options and solutions that are being developed”.

This latter work is important and it is to be hoped that the two big Commonwealth developing countries – India and South Africa – that are members of the G20, are giving strong support to the Commonwealth contributions.

Caribbean leaders will have a rare opportunity to bolster Sharma’s message when they meet President Calderon in Barbados on May 21 for a Mexico-Caribbean Summit.

The Commonwealth is to be congratulated for taking the initiative to brief the Chair of the G20 meetings, and for delivering technical material to the Working Group, but it is really relying on the goodwill of others. That goodwill is not enough to advance the interests of countries not represented in the meetings.

The great contradiction of the G20 – and its unfairness – is that while the 27-nation EU, as a Group, is a member of the G20, even though four of its member-states – Britain, France, Germany and Italy – are members in their own right, the 79-nation ACP is not. Only one ACP country – South Africa – is represented.  Hence, the EU and its member states get several bites at the cherry to push their national and European causes; the ACP does not.

It cannot be right that a grouping as large as the ACP is omitted from the G20.  But, if ACP governments do not insist upon representation with a collective voice, the causes of their people will remain cries in the wilderness of the global arena.  The Caribbean initiated the ACP. Its leaders should be active in securing a role for it in global decision-making.

(The writer is a Consultant and former Caribbean diplomat)

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