Economic crises demand greater commitment from G-77

GENEVA, Feb - The Group of 77 (G-77) chapter in Geneva plans to reach out into more sensitive areas of multilateral economic negotiations this year.

The Geneva chapter, chaired by the Ambassador Janina del Vecchio of Costa Rica, will focus on all the U.N. agencies involved in economic and development issues. Until now, the Group's activities in Geneva were focused mostly on the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

From now on, it will also become involved in other agencies, such as the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), which protects copyrights and industrial property.

Indirectly, the G-77 will also have a say on the position maintained by developing countries in the World Trade Organization (WTO), an institution that carries decisive weight in economic policy making worldwide.

Pakistani Ambassador Munir Akram, the outgoing chairman of the Geneva chapter, said that greater operative coordination is necessary between this bloc and the unofficial group of developing countries within the WTO. This Group at the WTO should learn from the experiences of the G-77 and UNCTAD, Akram said.

Developing countries face a period of challenges due to the current financial and economic crisis, which has international roots and consequences. This situation will determine whether the activities of the G-77 become more important and effective during 1998, he said.

Costa Rica's minister of Foreign Affairs, Fernando Naranjo, who was present at the January 16 transfer of the chairmanship of the Geneva chapter, warned that developing countries will face new challenges in negotiating with the WTO.

The G-77, he said, lacks a sophisticated and strong infrastructure such as the one that exists in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and which services the world's industrialised countries.

The support of UNCTAD, therefore, "will continue to be of great importance" for developing countries, said the Costa Rican minister. During the Uruguay Round of trade negotiations, many developing countries, "including those of greater relative development, were unfortunately unaware of the implications of certain issues because they were not properly briefed," he declared.

The developing countries lacked an appropriate negotiation strategy when the Uruguay Round concluded in 1994, and this vulnerability may repeat itself at the end of the century as the negotiations with the WTO are reactivated in the services and agricultural sectors, Naranjo said.

The members of OECD have introduced new issues for multilateral trade negotiations, but "many developing countries still need to understand the implications of these issues and to formulate negotiation strategies that are congruent with our interests," he added.
"The assistance we receive from UNCTAD in this arena will be very important," said the minister.

The new Chairperson of the Geneva chapter confirmed that this year, the bloc will focus on preparing the so-called "positive agenda" for trade negotiations in the areas of interest identified by the G-77.