Geneva Chapter

G-77 focuses on restructuring of UNCTAD

GENEVA, July - - The Geneva Chapter of the Group of 77 is concentrating on highly relevant issues for developing nations in recent months, said Ambassador Javier Diaz Carmona of Costa Rica, the current chair of the chapter.

One of the topics discussed at a meeting of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) budget working group was related to financial issues, he said.

UNCTAD IX, held in Midrand, South Africa in 1996, resolved that this UN agency should undergo restructuring, including changes in overall organisation and administration, with budget cuts in both.

During the 1996-1997 period, UNCTAD made savings by reducing the number of meetings, cutting down on the amount of interpreting and translating, among other issues.

UNCTAD was therefore able to achieve a considerable cutback in spending, said Diaz Carmona.

The results of the UNCTAD financial adjustment were passed on to the responsible bodies at the UN headquarters in New York, the Fifth Committee and the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ).

Now the amount saved will be returned to UNCTAD, although there is no regulation saying the funds have to be given back, said the Costa Rican diplomat.

However, Diaz Carmona said this cost-cutting trend should be a permanent feature. In this way, UN organisations could ''promote savings without harming their activities,'' he said. These resources will reinforce programmes which suffer from a shortage of funding at some point.

The UNCTAD budgeting working group also had the task of discussing the modes of investment for these savings, a debate in which the G77 chapter took an active role.
In looking over programmes eligible for these funds, one area emerged which had not been included in any budgeting: funding of the participation of representatives from developing countries in meetings of UNCTAD experts.

Each UNCTAD commission calls meetings of experts each year on issues important to developing nations, explained Diaz Carmona.

"However, our experts in the developing world cannot participate because there is insufficient funding to cover costs", he said.

Many countries have a large number of experts who could make important contributions on various issues. But their attendance has not been possible due to lack of financial resources.

For this reason, it was decided to dedicate a considerable part of the savings for travel costs of experts from developing nations. The Geneva Chapter has made great efforts to get the UNCTAD budget savings re-routed to experts.

Among other suggestions, the Geneva Chapter has asked the chairman of the G-77 in New York, Ambassador Makarim Wibisono of Indonesia, to intercede before the ACABQ and the Fifth Committee in order to ensure the return of these funds to UNCTAD to cover the costs of experts from the developing world.

While awaiting this decision, the Geneva Chapter has started evaluating how best to distribute these resources among the experts according to geographical regions.
According to initial calculations, the number of experts from the developing world attending each UNCTAD meeting could range from 12 to 15, the equivalent of an average of five representatives from each of the three regional groups - Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean.

Diaz Carmona stressed the importance of having experts from these regions at the annual UNCTAD meetings.

In this way, he said, "our nations' commitment to participating in these forums is stimulated. It will also allow us to present our regions with important data and contacts obtained at these meetings. We often are not even aware of what is going on in specific fields", he added.

The Geneva Chapter also took a leading role in the UNCTAD Mid-Term Review debates, which ended on July 10 with the approval of a text to be subjected to a referendum by the UNCTAD Trade and Development Board (TDB) on October 23.
The mid-term review implemented the mandate approved by UNCTAD IX in Midrand and the outlook for the period until the tenth conference in Thailand.

The chairman of the mid-term review, Moroccan ambassador Nacer Benjelloun-Toumi, carried out commendable work, said Diaz Carmona, making all possible effort for the final document to serve as a basis for the next two years. Here, said Diaz Carmona, the Group of 77 and China played a lead role.

The chairman of the session was a member belonging to the Africa Group, and, naturally, had African support. Meanwhile, the Asian Group had reservations on the process, while the Latin American-Caribbean Group was frequently forced to mediate between the other two.

"Finally we achieved a document which covered all the analysis of what took place in the two years previous to Midrand and the recommendations of what should be done in the two coming years before Thailand. This is a very precise document with respect to each programme and the UNCTAD secretariat," said Diaz Carmona.

He stressed that all the countries are going to reinforce UNCTAD as one of the UN bodies in charge of trade and development ''especially the development component which is so important for our countries.''

Here, he explained, UNCTAD will be strengthened to play a leading role in co-ordination with other international entities, like the World Trade Organisation (WTO), for example.

Diaz Carmona announced the Geneva Chapter would be attending the high-level expert group meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia on August 10 and 11.

At the Jakarta meeting, he said, the initiative on the proposed South-South summit will be discussed, along with follow-up to the South-South Meeting in Costa Rica during its G-77 presidency. (IPS)