Globalisation threatens the weak and the vulnerable

UNITED NATIONS, Jan -- Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas warned that globalisation has become so pervasive that no country in the world -- whether rich or poor -- can escape its impact.

Addressing a meeting that formalised Indonesia's chairmanship of the Group of 77 for 1998, the minister said that globalisation has considerably benefited some countries that have managed to avail themselves of its broadened opportunities. But still, many developing countries are facing enormous challenges, risks and uncertainties as a result of globalisation, he added.

''Indeed, its impact has threatened the weakest and most vulnerable economies with disaster,'' he added.

Alatas said that even those developing economies that have managed to integrate themselves with the global economy and thereby achieved a certain level of dynamism, have now found themselves susceptible to severe currency fluctuations and the rigours inflicted by international financial markets moving large amounts of capital in and out of countries, often with staggering speed.

Recent events in East and Southeast Asia have demonstrated that, given such volatility, economic structures painstakingly built over decades through painful adjustments and sound fiscal and monetary policies could crumble in the span of a few weeks, he added.

Through its contagion effect, this upheaval in one region could spill over to other parts of the world where even the developed countries are bound to feel its shock, he warned.

''We are pleased, therefore, that the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are heeding our call to examine closely recent developments in currency markets with a view to their appropriate regulation so that their operations would be rendered more open and transparent'', he added.

He said that although globalisation has helped liberalise markets, yet is it being manipulated by some countries to their advantage.

''Unfortunately, in spite of the establishment of the WTO, some developed countries have found new and insidious ways of undermining the comparative advantage of our exports, such as the introduction of extraneous issues like the environment, labour laws, human rights and other social issues in trade and economic cooperation arrangements'' he said.

''It is indeed ironic that while an agreement on financial services has been reached, the major exports of developing countries, notably agricultural products and textiles, are being subjected to arbitrary protectionist measures. It is therefore essential that we developing countries become full and equal partners in the common endeavour to nurture a free as well as a just multilateral trading system within the framework of the WTO,'' he added.

This is not to say that globalisation is an altogether negative force for it does have positive growth and trade-promoting impulses that could be harnessed to benefit all nations, he argued.

''But it should be managed wisely and with an eye to equitable sharing of responsibilities and benefits. We must therefore ensure that globalisation is given the highest priority on our agenda,'' he told members of the Group 77.

In doing so, he said, ''let us faithfully adhere to the approach and orientation that our Group has so effectively utilized since it was born at UNCTAD I in 1964. The profound changes wrought by globalisation and economic liberalisation make it all the more necessary that we continue working for the achievement of an international climate conducive to development and to a more equitable and effective functioning of the global economy,'' he added.

''We should strive to define our work this year and in the years ahead in such a way as to cover the common interests of all developing countries, whatever may be their levels of development, and at the same time contribute to an overall improvement of the global economy from which all countries, developed and developing, will benefit,'' he said.

''Our advocacy for the developing world should also provide a sound basis for constructive dialogue with our negotiating partners in the developed world,'' he said.
Alatas said that a constructive dialogue would prosper only within the processes of a United Nations that has been reformed and thus rendered more capable of fulfilling its mandate in the social and economic spheres.

''We are therefore heartened that the UN Secretary-General has initiated a UN Reform Package designed to transform the leadership and management structure of the Organization so that it can address the challenges of the new millennium with a greater sense of purpose, effectiveness and efficiency. It is in the interest of both the developed and developing countries that this Reform Package should lead to the enhancement of the role of the United Nations in the promotion of international cooperation for development'' he added.

At the global level, he said, ''we are convinced that only the United Nations has the universal mandate and the democratic orientation to assume a primary role in the management of globalization and economic liberalisation with a view to ensuring justice and equity''.

At the same time, the issue of international cooperation for development should be returned to centre stage in the reformed Organization and, along with An Agenda for Development and the right of all peoples to development, be accorded the emphasis and attention that it deserves, he concluded.