The protracted North-South dialogue between ''rich'' and ''poor'' nations is now thoroughly deadlocked.
At the heart of the problem is the refusal of the United States to go along with a multilateral effort to restructure the international economic system.
As a result, global negotiations between industrial and developing nations, dealing with the problems of energy, food, trade, finances, and development are not likely to be launched this spring, as had been expected and recommended by the United Nations.
The gap between the views held by the United States on the one hand, and by the Group of 77 (in fact, 120 developing nations) on the other regarding the competence and the role of the UN Conference on Global Negotiations, has not been bridged.
In Cancun, Mexico, last October, where President Reagan met with 21 other chiefs of state (seven from industrial nations and 14 from developing nations) the US had softened its stance to avoid being isolated and had agreed to participate in global negotiations called for by a resolution of the General Assembly of the UN. It was understood that the most intractable problems such as the conference's agenda, timetable, and authority would be left to be decided at the conference itself.
Soon afterward the Reagan administration backtracked and agreed to take part only in ''preliminary negotiations,'' which are to deal with procedural matters only and would not be empowered to discuss problems of substance.
The US and to a lesser extent its industrial partners (Japan, Canada, France, Britain, and West Germany) want to protect the integrity of such specialized agencies as General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, where they are in a controlling position. They want to make sure their policies will not be determined by a UN conference where they would be hopelessly outvoted.
The developing nations insist on an integrated approach to the various economic ills that afflict the world and want the UN conference to play a coordinating and guiding role in reaching decisions dealing with such topics as raw materials, transfer of technology, loans, and terms of trade.
Beyond the disagreement between the ''rich'' and the ''poor'' concerning global negotiations and the proper forums for pursuing a North-South dialogue lies a deeper discord: In a fundamental way the Reagan administration believes that the developing nations should mostly learn how to help themselves and pull themselves up by their bootstraps.
It believes that private initiatives rather than international agreements between governments should propel the developing countries toward prosperity.
The 77, as well as other industrial nations, do not share this philosophy and do not believe in the ''trickle-down theory.''
''We must stop thinking of the members of the third world as beggars or as potential rivals but we must see them as potential customers for our products and markets for our investments,'' says one Western official.
French, Canadian, West German, and Japanese experts believe that a fruitful North-South dialogue could go a long way to stabilize the world economy and to reduce international tensions.
''The North-South dialogue may not be the most attractive issue but it may well be the most serious one,'' says one high UN official. ''The growing imbalance between the wealth of a few countries and the poverty, the lack of infrastructure, of food, of education, of much of the third world is a time bomb ,'' says another moderate European ambassador.
Global negotiations on economic matters would have gone on for many years and at least would have allowed new ideas to be developed and some agreement, beneficial to both sides, to be reached. Only last week Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Mexico's President Jose Lopez Portillo made a joint declaration in support of convening the global negotiations.
The US, however, appears to be turning a deaf ear to calls from Brazil, Venezuela, India, France, Canada, and Mexico, to name but a few friendly countries.
''Global negotiations, yes, but to be conducted at the specialized agencies and as far away as possible from the UN,'' this is how US officials privately describe their position. To the third world this spells out submission to, not negotiation with, the US.
The US stand on this matter has already provoked anger and bitterness among officials of many developing countries.
''Some of us feel that there is nothing left for us but to sit out this administration,'' says a leading Asian ambassador.