UN General Assembly launches 'development decade' with renewed North-South dialogue

The world's rich and poor nations will have another chance for "North-South dialogue" at a special session of the United Nations General Assembly that convened here Aug. 25.

US Secretary of State Edmund Muskie as well as European foreign ministers and many third-world heads of state (including Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Zia Rahman of Bangladesh) arrived here for the official opening of the two-week session. But underneath the formalities, there is little optimism and growing frustration as the gap between the "haves" and "have-nots" continues to widen.

After the expected parade of speeches about global interdependency and the benefits of cooperation, diplomats will burn the midnight oil trying to reach some common ground. Even the venue of future global talks is in dispute. The South wants more comprehensive talks centralized at the UN, while the North wants to bargain in specialized agencies that they dominate.

Narrowing the North-South rift will remain a distant goal. In fact, it will take an enormous effort just to prevent the gap from growing.But considering the needs of developed nations for a stable flow of raw materials and export markets and the third-world needs for capital and technology, some dialogue seems inevitable. "The best we can do now," says one US official, "is to clear the air."

Recession and inflation in the West coupled with rising oil bills have wrecked havoc on many less developed economies in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Slow growth in the West has meant shrinking demand for raw materials and other goods exported by the less developed countries (LDCs).

The goal of the parley is to devise a strategy for the "development decade" of the '80s and agree on a framework for global negotiations. But so wide has the rich-poor gap become that even 11th hour efforts to agree on an agenda ended in stalemate.

Since the first North-South meeting five years ago in Paris, the differing approaches and priorities of the industrialized developed nations and the Group of 77 (now 119 nations), as the third-world block is known, there has been an abundance of heated rhetoric and acrimonious but little agreement.

The LDCs (who have amassed foreign debts close to $400 billion) have persisted in their demands for a "new international economic order" seeking massive redistribution of global wealth and reform of international trade and financial institutions. Among their proposals are: a program to raise and stabilize commodity prices; new rules to defer debts and reform the monetary system; larger financial reserves for development, including more than doubling foreign aid; and freer markets for their exports and better access to technology.

But the industrialized nations, faced with their own economic woes, have resisted efforts at sweeping change and instead focused on expanding existing institutions, where they have overwhelming voting power.

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