Will North-South Aid Switch to E. Europe?


AS countries of the European Community (EC) direct their attention and finances toward their Eastern Europe neighbors, developing countries in other regions of the world are expressing concern that they will become the victims of this new focus. Signs that Western efforts to help Eastern Europe will work to their disadvantage are seen by many third-world countries as a worrisome cap to a decade already filled with economic stagnation and deterioration. Foreign investment, joint ventures, more accessible Western markets - the very means being proposed to revitalize devastated East European economies - are just what many third world countries have seen dry up in recent years.

The European Community, with its commitment to economic aid and trade assistance, has long been appreciated as a model of North-South relations.

``Our very real concern is not that the European Community will look to help the East. We understand that bonding,'' says Joshua Ihora, Nigerian ambassador to Belgium. ``We are worried that in the process, they will turn their back on us.''

EC officials publicly say there is no cause for third-world alarm, and point to a recent $13 billion package of assistance offered to 66 African, Caribbean, and Pacific nations as proof of a sustained role. The five-year aid offer, known as Lom'e IV, after the Togan capital where the first agreement was signed in 1975, is a 46 percent increase over Lom'e III, which expires in February.

But privately some EC officials say that the mounting concern among developing nations is justified. French officials, reflecting their country's close historical ties to third-world issues, say the developing world risks seeing its place on the international stage reduced as that of the East grows.

Even French President Fran,cois Mitterrand, after stating at a recent press conference that EC assistance to developing countries would grow rather than decline, acknowledged that ``we can't do everything at the same time.'' A developing focus on East Europe could lead the Community to ``slow down our measures in other directions,'' he says.

Mr. Ihora, who participated in the Lom'e talks, notes that the aid package now on the table contains the smallest percentage increase of the various Lom'e accords, ``and this when there will be three new members [to the 66-member group].'' The package amounts to $10 per capita over a five-year-period, ``while offers so far to Poland and Hungary amount to $60 per head over three years,'' he says. ``We look at that and we can't help but think that what might have been ours has gone to them.''

There is no guarantee, of course, that without the events in East Europe, developing countries would enjoy better deals. Some analysts suggest that the third world's poor economic situation may simply be aggravated as the world focuses on the East.

``The third world had already seen its bargaining power [with the West] well reduced,'' says Zaiki Laidi, a specialist in North-South relations at the Paris Institute of Political Studies. ``The threat now is that efforts at debt reduction, trade accords, outright aid - all that will be monopolized by the problems in the East.''

Mr. Laidi notes that certain European countries, including Britain and West Germany, ``already had practically stopped thinking about the third world.'' Eastern Europe will ``likely provide a pretext for even less effort.''

Studies show that West German investment in the third world has fallen from almost one-third of the country's total foreign investment to less than 5 percent.

In the coming year, there will be at least two tests of how much developing economies are affected, Laidi says. The first will be EC trade and assistance negotiations with the 11 Mediterranean countries that are not Community members. The other involves the trends in application of the Brady Plan, the US treasury secretary's debt-reduction program.

``[European] public opinion will also bear watching,'' Laidi says, ``because the risk [to the third world] will grow if opinion is seen favoring the East as more manageable and closer.''

This scenario of a weakened third world will not be general, Laidi argues, but selective: Those countries seen as strategically important - such as Mexico, the Philippines, Thailand - will fare better than others. ``There will be continuing emphasis on bilateralism,'' he says, to the detriment of any North-South dialogue.

In the mean time, says Nigeria's Ihora, the West ``should be able to deal with more than just Eastern Europe'' at one time. Otherwise, he adds, ``They might find themselves solving one problem only to face another that's become much worse.''

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