Published on Friday, August 25, 2000 in the Manchester Guardian
Third World Aims A Spearhead At Rich Club
Caucus of key figures will look for a seat at developed world's table
by Ewen MacAskill
Key figures from the developing world gave their agreement yesterday to proposals for securing a voice in international economic forums.
The meeting, in London, was the first for the coordinating group of the G77, which represents 80% of the world's population.
The group is angry at the way the developing world has been excluded from decisions taken by such organisations as the Group of Seven, which represents the wealthiest countries.
The two-day meeting was the most serious attempt by the developing world to acquire political muscle since the Non-Aligned Movement lost influence.
The main people involve were the president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo; the president of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad; the president of Algeria, Abdelaziz Bouteflika; the prime minister of Jamaica, James Patterson; and Cheryl Carolus, the South African high commissioner in London, representing President Thabo Mbeki.
They issued a statement expressing concern about globalisation, trade barriers biased against developing countries, the environment, and debt. The statement reinforced the necessity of becoming effectively organised.
A source close to the discussions said: "They are concerned about decisions taken by the rich club and then they have to pick up the tab."
The group of 77, which was originally 77 countries but was expanded to 133, has been largely moribund through lack of organisation.
It carries little weight with the G7, the World Trade Organisation and the International Monetary Fund.
More than 120 of its members attended a meeting in Havana in April to look at ways of gaining more than a toehold at meetings of the rich club.
Aware that they have been hampered in the past by the unwieldyness of an organisation with so many members, they agreed that a small coordinating group should meet in London.
The group is to be put on a permanent footing, and may be chaired by the former Commonwealth secretary-general, Sonny Ramphal, who attended the London talks.
The source said: "The problem in the past was that it was an amorphous group. They want a tight group to do business."
The G77 is less political than the Non-Aligned Movement and more focused on influencing the big international economic bodies.
The source added: "They want informal influence at the WTO and IMF rather than long speeches at the UN."
The leaders were privately infuriated that Mr Mbeki, a member of the core group though he was absent from the London meeting, was virtually ignored when he attended the G7 meeting in Okinawa last month.
The London meeting, held at the Nigerian residence, was organised by Mr Obasanjo, who is emerging as one of the leaders of the developing world. President Clinton, in recognition of Mr Obasanjo's growing importance, is to visit Nigeria tomorrow.
As a first test of their political strength, the members agreed to present a special report to the UN millennium summit in New York next month. The report, which will not be published until seen by all G77 leaders, deals mainly with trade and the environment.
The coordinating group met the deputy prime minister, John Prescott, at Downing Street before leaving London. Mr Prescott said that the developed countries had to do more to meet the anti-pollution targets agreed at the Kyoto conference.
Mr Prescott, in separate talks, thanked Mr Obasanjo for his intervention in Liberia over the arrest and imprisonment of a Channel 4 television crew.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2000