The world's North-South economic dialogue is nagged by East-West political confrontation. Instead, East and West ought to work together -- as suggested in a major new report on the subject -- to support the trend toward a mutually beneficial relationship between the North (meaning the industrialized countries) and the South (meaning the developing countries, the third world, the nonaligned).
Such a trend might seem unlikely in view of the failure to reach consensus on a development program at the just-completed New Delhi conference of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). A main sticking point for Western delegates was the majority's call to the industrialized countries for a global development fund to reach $300 billion by the year 2000. In addition, political issues were inserted in a way that lined up Moscow, Peking, and other communist governments with the third world against the West.
Though the conference fell short of agreement, it was not a bust in the eyes of a third- world spokesman who stressed the elements of cohesion within his group as well as the continuation of dialogue with the North. Then, too, UNIDO reached the milestone of becoming a full-fledged "specialized agency" of the UN -- such as the Food and Agriculture Organization -- with the separate and larger budget this means.
And it should be remembered that UNIDO is only one of the burners on which the challenge of development is cooking. There is more and more negotiation not only on economic and industrial needs but on such matters as sharing technology, both on Earth and in space. the UN General Assembly has given the go-ahead to preparation for a future, encompassing round of North-South negotiations including the central topics of how to get the money and supply the energy for developing countries to bring themselves up to their potentialities.
This week a significant input to these preparations arrives at the UN in the form of the major report mentioned above. It is the long- awaited result of two years' deliberation by the distinguished body chaired by former Chancellor Willy Brandt of West Germany and titled the Independent commission on International Development.
The commission reportedly sought to involve communist countries in discussion when it could. According to advance descriptions of its North-South "program for survival," the Brandt commission emphasizes the need for bringing East and West together to meet the global development problems that affect all. For example, it is said to propose, at least for consideration, a new "world development fund" with universal membership and universal taxes. Unlike the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, this fund would involve both communists and noncommunists, would provide loans for general rather than specially targeted use, and would give borrowers and lenders greater equality in reaching decisions.
Other proposals expected in the report include means of ensuring:
Financing for poorer countries, such as an international tax on trade, ocean minerals, and weapons sales;
Aid by richer countries, such as a commitment to live up to the long-gone promise to supply .7 percent of gross national product, rising to one percent by the year 2000;
A sufficiency of food, through a program for increased production and improved distribution;
A sufficency of energy, through international agreement on pricing, conservation, production, and other matters serving the needs of both producers and consumers of energy resources;
Enhancement of trade, through removing trade barriers and establishing more commodities agreements to stabilize prices.
It can be argued that the reduction in disparities between rich and poor should be pursued simply because it is the right thing to do among neighbors on a small planet. But every discussion brings new evidence of the fact it is a two-way street.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation reports that growth in the developing countries in the past several years has had important benefits for Europe. It counts a net gain of 600,000 jobs a year for Northern traders with the South during the period from 1973 to 1977. And, within the third world itself, the development of technological industry in Singapore, for instance, has benefited countries that have inherited some of the lower technology business.