The Historic Importance of G-77

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 the 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 the first UNCTAD, the 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 vigorously 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 the first UNCTAD, 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 determined defence by the countries of the North.  I recall when after a night-long negotiation, we reached an agreement among the G-77 on a set of principles, one of my negotiating partners exclaimed: “this is our contribution to humankind!” These principles became a major bargaining counter at the First UNCTAD, demanding the attention at the highest level of delegations and decisively shaping the Final Act adopted at the Conference.  

        My first major involvement with G-77 was in the process of the preparation of the Asian position as a contribution to the Algiers Charter adopted by the first Ministerial Meeting of the Group in Algiers in 1967, preparatory to the Second UNCTAD to be held in New Delhi in 1968.  In preparing the Asian position, we encountered a major obstacle in the then Economic Commission for Asia and Far East (ECAFE) secretariat refusing to provide its forum for our negotiation, on the ground that since ECAFE’s membership consisted of both developed and developing countries, its forum could not be made available for negotiation among its developing members alone.  We ultimately reached a compromise with the then Executive Secretary of ECAFE to use the existing forum of Bilateral Trade Promotion Talks for this purpose.  In spite of the problems it posed, we managed to negotiate a Bangkok Declaration which was recognized as a model to be followed for drafting the Algiers Charter.  It was in no small measure due to the importance of this document that Raúl Prebisch, the UNCTAD Secretary-General, nominated me to “the group of eight” who were constituted to draft the Algiers Charter.   

        The issue of special measures in favour of the least developed member countries of G-77 was raised for the first time in the Algiers Conference by representatives of African countries.  This matter was discussed in the lobbies and taken up informally by African representatives with Dr. Prebisch.  No attempt was made to inscribe it on the formal agenda of the Ministerial Conference nor was it allowed to come in the way of the G-77 forging their common position for negotiation at UNCTAD II.  African representatives generally accepted Dr. Prebisch’s assurance that the matter would be pursued in UNCTAD.  We in the Indian delegation were aware that the issue would be raised at the New Delhi Conference for which we had to remain prepared.  I, therefore, prepared an internal paper for the Government of India suggesting the lines on which a G-77 common position on the issue could be evolved.  

The suggestion made in the paper was that any measure which was of interest to most members of G-77 should be supported by the entire group so long as the measure did not militate against the interest of any member of the group.  If, on the other hand, there was a conflict of interest, an effort should be made to find a consensus on it with the G-77 as a whole.

        The issue was indeed raised in high level consultations between G-77 and the Secretary General of UNCTAD and an understanding was reached on the broad approach to be followed to deal with it, more or less based on the suggestion made in my paper.

        My most glorious moment for negotiating on behalf of G-77 came when I was elected the Chairperson of G-77 in New York for the year 1969-70 when the International Development Strategy (IDS) for the Second U.N. Development Decade, that is, the decade of the 1970s was negotiated.  Having been elected Chairperson of G-77 at a time when I was merely a First Secretary in the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations was a great honour.  In that capacity, I had the challenging task of coordinating the formulation of the common position of the G-77 on the IDS and negotiating on their behalf with developed countries.  At the 1969 session of the General Assembly, I was elected Rapporteur of the Preparatory Committee for the formulation of the IDS.  This gave me an opportunity to prepare the agreed text of the various components of the Strategy for the Committee.  The really touching moment came when I presided over a meeting of the G-77 to get its final approval of the text of the IDS which had been negotiated with other groups over a period of more than a year.  I was dismayed, but by no means surprised or crestfallen, when more than 100 amendments to the text were moved by various delegations on the floor of the house.  In an intervention lasting for over 45 minutes, I responded to each of the amendments and explained why they were not necessary.  Immediately after my prolonged response, Ambassador Sergio Armando Frazao of Brazil, the highly respected and most senior Permanent Representative in the UN, proposed that all the amendments should be withdrawn and the text adopted without any change.  Thereafter the conference hall burst into a deafening roar of approval for the text. This reflected the firm solidarity which inspired G-77 at that time.  By adopting this document, the United Nations put in place a new comprehensive framework and erected a new benchmark for international cooperation.  The IDS was the closest possible approximation to an international development plan.  It was indeed remarkable that in spite of not being a world government, the United Nations was able to arrive at a consensus on a type of document which is generally formulated and implemented by governments.  This falsified the presumption of the “realists” that a conglomerate of sovereign States without being vested with sovereign authority of its own (this is one of the ways the UN is defined) can never think of discharging a function which behoves only a sovereign authority, the commitments in this document are expressed in definitive terms by the use of the verb “shall”.  It was in this document that the developed countries for the first time accepted the commitment to transfer 0.75 per cent of their GNP as development assistance to developing countries and set the deadline of 1972 for meeting this target.  They also for the first time accepted the obligation to bring about structural adjustments in their domestic economies to facilitate expanded imports from developing countries.

        A decade later, G-77 put me up as their candidate for the post of the Chairperson of the General Assembly Preparatory Committee for formulating the International Development Strategy for the Third Development Decade, that is, the 1980s, and I was unanimously elected by the Assembly in that position. Unfortunately, by that time major developed countries had already started their assault to enfeeble the UN and transform its mandate.  Therefore, the prospect for arriving at a consensus on a really worthwhile IDS for the 1980s was not at all promising.  As it happened, I myself had to resign from the position and briefly withdraw from the multilateral arena, because of the decision of my government to give me an important bilateral assignment.  I was replaced by Ambassador Agha Shahi of Pakistan as the Chairperson of the Preparatory Committee.  An IDS for the 1980s was indeed adopted but it was a pale shadow of that of the 1970s.

        There was a qualitative change in the global economic situation and in the position of the multilateral system when I returned to the UN arena as India’s Permanent Representative in Geneva.  By that time, the UN had ceased to be a forum for serious negotiations.  Each time we, on behalf of G-77, took an initiative to raise a substantive issue for negotiation, our partners from developed countries promptly ensured that the issue got entangled in the procedural wrangle of whether the UN was at all qualified to negotiate on the issue.  The process of transferring the UN Charter functions in the economic field to the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) was in full swing.  So were the relentless efforts to reduce the staff strength and put a freeze on the budgets of UN organizations.  The situation was so hopeless that we failed in our effort, spread over three years, to persuade the developed countries to agree to convening a Ministerial level meeting of the Trade and Development Board of UNCTAD.

        However, in concert with other active members of G-77, I was able to achieve a few things from which I still derive great satisfaction.  In the 1982 GATT Ministerial Meeting in Geneva, we were able, in spite of relentless pressure both in Geneva and bilaterally at Headquarters, to prevent the launching of a new round of trade negotiations under GATT with new issues like Services, Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and Trade Related Investment Measures (TRIMS), on the agenda.  Ultimately, G-77 succumbed to the pressure and agreed to launch at the GATT Ministerial Meeting held in Punta del Este in 1986, the Uruguay Round of Trade Negotiations.  G-77 could not formulate a common position for the Punta del Este Conference and it was reduced to G-10 by the time we met in the Conference.  Even G-10 could not act in concert to prevent the denouement in Punta del Este.  The new round was launched with the inclusion of issues like TRIPS, TRIMS, etc.  We did derive some satisfaction from the flexibility in the negotiating mandates on these issues, and the decision to launch the negotiations on Services on a separate track.  The latter, however, proved to be only a fig leaf as the two tracks quickly merged with each other and cross retaliation became a reality.  At the Montreal Review Conference of the Uruguay Round Negotiations, I was able to galvanize G-10 and prevent an agreement from being reached on undertaking substantive negotiations on TRIPS.  It was only eight months later when India gave up its position which was a major factor accounting for G-77 as a whole yielding under pressure and accepting substantive negotiations on TRIPS.  It was a reflection of the diminished stature and faltering cohesion of G-77, which had seen its effectiveness and political clout declining sharply side by side with the decline of the UN beginning from the early 1980s.  

        Another important initiative I took, along with my colleague Ambassador S.P. Shukla, the then Indian Ambassador to GATT, was to persuade G-77 to participate in a Ministerial Conference in New Delhi on the Global System of Trade Preferences (GSTP).  An impressively large number of Ministers participated in the Conference in which significant trade concessions were negotiated and GSTP was put back on the track after it had remained dormant since its launching in Belgrade several years ago.  A couple of years after the Delhi Ministerial Conference, GSTP was once again forgotten and revived only a few years ago when the then Brazilian President Lula took the initiative of convening in Brasilia the Third Negotiating Conference under GSTP.  With the recent shift in the global economic power balance towards developing countries, GSTP has acquired greater salience and, therefore, needed to be revived as a major instrument of South-South cooperation. 

        During my tenure as India’s Permanent Representative in Geneva, I derived great intellectual satisfaction from the cogent and lucid extempore presentation year after year of the Trade & Development Report (TDR) by Dr. Gamani Corea, the then Secretary General of UNCTAD.  The opportunity of commenting on the Secretary General’s speech and the TDR on behalf of G-77 used to be a great event in my working life those days.  I also remember my participation as a spokesman of G-77 at the 1983 UNCTAD Conference in Belgrade, in the debate on the famous agenda item 8 on Inter-relationship between Trade, Money, Finance and Development.  Delegates used to flock to the conference hall allotted for discussion on this item, just to listen to the debate which often touched dizzying heights.  My two other colleagues from G-77 in the debate were the representatives of Brazil and Algeria.  The basic differences between our position and that of the developed countries was that whereas in our view the crisis that beset the global economy in the early 1980s was rooted in structural factors calling for major changes in order to make the global economic system fair and equitable, our colleagues from developed countries argued that the crisis was of a cyclical nature which would self-correct through the operation of the market forces and no drastic additional measures were required to be taken.  It is difficult to say in retrospect as to which side won the debate, but I recall that in spite of the basic difference we were able to arrive at a consensus on this agenda item which became a part of the report of the Conference.

        Each year from 1982-85, I represented India in the First Committee of the General Assembly which dealt with all disarmament items.  I remember coordinating the position of the Non-Aligned Countries (and hence also of G-77) on disarmament issues.  Our positions differed on certain major issues like Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), regional zones of peace, regional arms race and conventional arms race.  We voted differently on the resolutions on these issues. But it was remarkable that we managed to evolve common positions on the (90 per cent) rest of disarmament issues which included most of the resolutions relating to prevention of nuclear war and nuclear disarmament.  One of our major achievements in the field of disarmament those days was the adoption of a Consensus Document on the Relationship Between Disarmament and Development, in a specially convened UN Conference held on this subject.  I was the Chairperson of the Preparatory Committee of this Conference and in that capacity shouldered the main responsibility for thrashing out the Consensus Document.  This became possible only with the unwavering support of G-77 and the constructive cooperation of all the major Western countries, except the United States and the United Kingdom which boycotted the Conference, and the then Eastern Bloc.

        After my retirement from the Indian Foreign Service, I had the opportunity of serving the cause of G-77 through the South Centre, Geneva, under the leadership of President Julius Nyerere, also called Mwalimu, the teacher.  My association with the South Centre began with a call from Mwalimu requesting me to prepare the response of G-77 to the Nordic proposal for UN reforms made on the basis of a multi-volume study of the operational activities of the UN.  I gladly accepted the challenge to prepare the G-77 position and was asked by the South Centre to locate myself for this purpose in New York and work from the G-77 secretariat located at UN Headquarters.  An interesting incident connected with this assignment was that UN Security notified me that a pass for my entry into the UN building would be issued only if I had an identity card indicating that I was a member of the Permanent Mission of Pakistan, whose Permanent Representative, Ambassador Jamashid Markar, was the Chairman of the Group of 77 at that time.  The Pakistan Mission promptly issued an identity card for me.  It was indeed an exhilarating feeling of being a part of Pakistan’s Mission to the UN in order to be able to carry out my assignment for G-77.

        I prepared a draft position paper of G-77 and got feedback on it from a group of distinguished ambassadors, policy makers and intellectuals from both North and South, in a specially convened consultation meeting in New York.  This position paper was approved in its entirety by the South Centre and was subsequently issued as one of its publications.  After that I prepared for the South Centre papers on UN reforms in general, regional integration, international financial architecture, significance of UNCTAD etc.  These were used as inputs into policy briefs prepared by the South Centre for G-77, and some of these briefs were sent out as letters addressed by Mwalimu to the heads of government of G-77.