Third-world interests called world issues at UN meeting

Put the trade delegates of 160 countries representing virtually the entire global community in a vast emporium of glass with long mirrored corridors and what do you get?

A wide spectrum of economic positions that are also transparently political and which reflect the sharp ideological splits in the world today.

''How can you put 160 countries under a single tent and come up with anything but political philosophy? The tactic for the third world is to shoot for the moon and hope to get a few treetops,'' says a Westerner at this world economic parley.

As UNCTAD VI, the sixth United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, heads for its final showdown in a showcase convention center on the outskirts of Belgrade, a fundamental paradox emarges:

At no time have the nations of the world been so dependent on each other for trade. Seldom have they been so far apart politically on the very trade issues that divide them: protectionism, commodity price stabilization - more than half of developing countries sagging exports come from commodities - and soaring debts:

Many of these third-world problems have arisen precisely because of the complexity and accelerated integration of world economies:

Between 1950 and 1980: for instance, global output in real terms tripled while real per capita income for the world, despite population growth.

But today some 50 developing countries are barely surviving: about another 20 are burdened with heavy debts and an urgent call to the richer nations at UNCTAD is not meeting the kind of response that third-world countries feel is essential if social and political upheaval is to be avoided back home.

The real significance of the meeting scheduled to end June 30 is that North-South dialogue - the on-again, off-again communication between the ''have'' countries of the industrialized North and the ''have-not'' countries of the largely developing South - is back on track.

As the mood of the delegates turned more accommodating after an initial impasse of almost 21/2 weeks, enthusiasm for pushing the concept of interdependence between North and South became more evident. Both developing and developed nations are recognizing their economies are becoming increasingly enmeshed following an unprecedented tripling in real terms of global output from 1955 to 1980, and a doubling of world real per capita income despite population growth. As a result, at no time have the nations of the world been so dependent on each other.

Back in 1950, according to the Overseas Development Council in Washington, the sum of all exports was valued at only $61 billion. In 1981 it exceeded $2 trillion - both in current US dollars. The logic of a greater volume of trade is inescapable. The more trade the more jobs become available. It is a momentum that has fed the job markets both in the developed and developing world.

The ability of more than a score of developing countries to produce more sophisticated export goods helped bring a surge in world trade growth volumes in the 1970s.

The result is two new upwardly mobile economic groupings within the third world: the so-called NICs, or newly industrialized countries; and, behind them, a ''second tier'' of nations whose strong export performances have helped pull them out of the basement of poorest developing states. The effect has been to blur the sharp distinction between the world's ''have'' and ''have-not'' countries.

And with a larger volume of world trade, a recession in one part of the world is making even greater impacts on the economies of other areas in the globe.

Thus a move by the developing countries to cut back on imports because their own mounting debts have made it difficult to afford the luxury of foreign goods would trigger an economic chain reaction that would throw people out of work in places as far afield as Dayton, Ohio and Lyons, France.

World trade's two-way street prompted Nina Sylvia Stancheva of the French Foreign Ministry to comment in Paris recently: ''We must help third-world countries because of interdependence. We cannot have recovery in the North or at least it will not be durable without the third world. Not only is the third world dependent on the North, but the North is dependent on the third-world countries.''

As much as 40 percent of the European Community's trade is with the third world. In 1979 developing countries accounted for 36 percent of American exports , or more than double the total of Japanese and West European markets combined.

Says John P. Lewis of the Overseas Development Council in the ODC's US Foreign Policy and Third-World Agenda 1983:

''The developing countries' crumbling trade growth which is under way, and their financial collapse which is threatening, can do the American economy great injury.''

Yet third-world delegates here at UNCTAD feel the American position is unsympathetic to their plight. The American stance is that everything that can be done, has been done.

As to possible US response to any proposed financial relief beyond what has been done for heavily indebted NICs, the policy is ''to say they are grown-up boys and they (US) cannot spoon-feed them,'' says a source familiar with US sentiments.

The West in general is standing its ground. UNCTAD observers believe this is in part due to the more conservative lineup of governments in key Western nations - the US, Britain, and West Germany. But another inhibiting factor for all Western governments is a 32-million-person unemployment line.

The world's rich-poor gap Average incomem (per capita GNP, 1981) Rate of economic growthm (in per capita GNP, 1970-81, real terms) 2.8 percent Developing nations 3 percent Developed nations Source: World Bank

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.