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As the global economy continues it’s decline, the consequences are growing for the world’s poorest. Up until a recent UN conference on the crisis, the representatives of their governments had not been given a venue to discuss a coordinated response to the problem. Not surprisingly they have targeted the basic elements of the global financial architecture for drastic reform, and in turn, the West has sought to shut them out of the discussion around international finance. The Real News heads to the UN to find out what exactly is being discussed there to provoke such a response from the West.

Story Transcript

G-20 or G-192: Fear of the South
Producer: Jesse Freeston

JESSE FREESTON (VOICEOVER), TRNN: In part one of G-20 or G-192, we discussed how Western governments have sought to dissuade and disrupt attempts by the UN General Assembly to take leadership over the global economic crisis.

US REPRESENTATIVE (UNIDENTIFIED): Our strong view is that the UN does not have the expertise or the mandate to serve as a forum for meaningful dialogue or to provide direction on issues such as reserve systems, the international financial institutions, and the international financial architecture.

FREESTON: June’s UN conference on the economic crisis, which issued invitations to all of its 192-member governments, demonstrated that many governments are unwilling to continue placing their trust in the Western-dominated global financial institutions. While the rhetoric from the West since the crisis has been mostly about recovery, return, or a reset of the structure as it was before the crisis, many in attendance at the UN are seeing the crisis as an opportunity to move away from economic system that they feel failed them long before the crisis hit.

MIGUEL D’ESCOTO BROCKMANN, PRESIDENT, UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): The current situation isn’t a tragedy; it’s a crisis. Tragedy has a bad outcome, with an earth that is damaged, but which continues on without us. Crisis, on the other hand, purifies us and forces us to grow and find ways to survive that are acceptable to the entire community of life, human beings, and the Earth.

FREESTON: The walkway to the hall of the General Assembly itself serves as a reminder to those in attendance of the grim realities being faced by many in the world.

PLAQUE TEXT: A child born in a developing country is almost 14 times more likely to die during the first month of life than a child born in a developed country.

FREESTON: And these walls were painted well before the current crisis struck.

AMB. BYRON BLAKE, SPECIAL ADVISER TO GEN. ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT: For the developed countries, it is a question as to how do we stop the present fallout of the financial system. Can we put sufficient resources in there to prop up the system such that we can get the system to begin to work again as it worked before, as it worked before? And, presumably, if their system begin to work as it worked before, the international system will work as it worked before. What all of this has shown is that that international system was fundamentally flawed. In fact, developing countries have been saying this for years. They have been saying this especially after the 1990s and after the Asian crisis.

AMB. DELANO FRANK BART, PERMANENT REP. TO UN FOR ST. KITTS & NEVIS: We made no contribution to this crisis. We did not remain silent. We object to it, objected with every breath we had, but we were ignored.

FREESTON: Today the crisis is having its most dire effects on those residing in the least developed countries, known as LDCs.

DIPU MONI, MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS, BANGLADESH: There is no denying that the crisis is having a disproportionate negative impact on the LDCs. The condition of the poor is getting worse, and the number is rising rapidly. Latest statistics from Food and Agriculture Organization puts the number of hungry people now at an unprecedented 1.02 billion, which is one-sixth of the humanity.

MARTIN KHOR, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, THE SOUTH CENTRE: You see the consumer in the United States, in Europe, and Japan, because they have lost their jobs and because they are having, you know, a problem with their housing and mortgage and so on, they are beginning to reduce their spending. And this has caused the developing countries to have a loss of the demand in their exports, in manufactured exports, and because of that in the commodities that go into manufacturing exports. And because of that, many workers are losing their jobs. In China alone, 20 million workers lost their jobs because of the closure of factories that are exporting to the United States. Many farmers are seeing their income fall because of the collapse in commodity prices. The governments are seeing a sharp reduction in revenues. One of the African countries today at a conference said that his government revenue had fallen by 50 percent. You know? And this means that government will not be able to spend as they did in the past on schooling, housing, education, health care, food for the people. You know? And on top of this, they may begin to have a balance-of-payments problem; in other words, the reserves are going to be so low that in a few months they may not be able to import food or fuel or pay their loans.

FREESTON: While the conversation at April’s G-20 summit focused mainly on the financial sector, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that such a broader list of invitees at the UN conference would bring about a much broader discussion about global economics.

NAVANETHEM PILLAY, UN HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: Informal sector workers, women and children, are among those most acutely hit by recession. Migrant workers are most likely to be the first in line to lose their jobs, not only because of their status, which is called into question, but also because they are often employed in sectors that are particularly affected by the economic crisis. Past lessons caution us that recessions frequently fuel xenophobic sentiments, discriminatory practices, and violent attacks against those who are perceived as “the others”. Times of hardship for families and communities often expose women and girls to heightened risks. Violence against women can intensify when men experience displacement and dispossession as a result of an economic downturn. Clear human rights approach helps to put communities and peoples themselves in charge of devising what measures are best suited to ensure that economic recovery is sustainable, evenly spread, and long-lasting. A human rights approach envisages such participation of the people affected and advocates evenhandedness, transparency, and accountability in policy making.

FREESTON: There was also talk about unfair trade rules.

AMB. ALI MCHUMO, DIRECTOR, COMMON FUND FOR COMMODITIES: In subsidized production of, let’s say, maize, corn, in developed countries, it may be cheaper to sell that corn in Tanzania than the corn grown in Tanzania. Now, what I’m saying, if we just blindly say that open your market to all of our agricultural products, fine. But what will be the impact of the corn which is much cheaper imported, eh? What will be the impact on the economy of the poor farmers in Tanzania whose production costs may be higher? So I’m saying if you allow—say you fight protectionism, you allow unmanaged liberalization, you may end up wiping out this poor corn farmer in Tanzania because of the cheaper maize or corn coming from outside.

FREESTON: There was talk about energy profiteering.

FRANÇOIS HOUTART, SOCIOLOGIST AND PRIEST: An energy crisis has been linked with the increase of the price of petroleum, partly for speculative reasons. And necessary investments for a structured solution for a change of energy cycle from fossil to other sources has been seriously hindered by the huge injection of money to save the financial system.

FREESTON: Many at the conference lamented the crisis-induced freefalling commodity prices that has rocked developing economies. While at the same time acknowledging that high commodity prices have been a curse to many people in the developing world, for many serving only to bring about great violence, desire of raw materials have provided the fuel for open-armed conflicts, such as the role of coltan in the Congolese war that has cost more than 5 million lives over the past decade. Meanwhile, it is also blamed for targeted political violence such as the recent assassination of Marcelo Rivera, a leader of the anti-gold-mining movement in El Salvador.

KHOR: Having resources, minerals and so on, is not inherently, is not necessarily a socially bad thing. It depends how you use it; it depends on the reconnection and the implementation of rights links to it. So you can imagine countries that have resources that use it well, that recognize the human rights of the residents in the area and don’t chase people off the land, and that try to get a good price for their exports, and that much of the revenue of the exports may belong to the government in terms of revenue for the government to spend for the good of the people. You can have that model. So I don’t think that necessarily if you have oil or if you have copper or if you have plantation crops that it is necessarily a bad thing. It depends on the social relations and the framework within it.

FREESTON: With so much on the line for people of all classes living in developing countries, their governments are standing up to demand they be consulted in global economic reform.

KHOR: We have a change the paradigm of policy, and it’s emerging. Those developing countries that were the recipients of this paradigm and in fact had this paradigm imposed on them because of their debt crisis, imposed through the IMF and World Bank and other instruments like the free-trade agreements and so on, they have the right to say, “Look here, you know, I mean, what you told us has not worked for us, it has not worked for you, and we demand a right to re-look at this whole paradigm, not that you should re-look at it for us and make the decisions again. And I feel we have lost confidence, and we are demanding a place on the table to make the policies together with you.” And this is an extremely, eminently justifiable demand that nobody should deny them this right.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Martin Khor is the Executive Director of The South Centre, an intergovernmental organization that provides research and policy advice to 50 governments of the Global South. Prior to this, he was the Director of the Third World Network, a developing-country organization carrying out research in trade, environment and development issues. He has served as Editor of the South-North Development Monitor and is a member of the United Nations Committee on Development Policy. He sat on a wide array of commissions and boards, serving on the Board of the South Centre (1996-2002), the Helsinki Group on Globalisation and Democracy, the International Task Force on Climate Change (2003-2005), the Expert Group on Democracy and Development, Commonwealth Secretariat (2002-2003), the United Nations Secretary-General's Task Force on Environment and Human Settlements (1998), and the Working Group of Experts on the Right to Development, the UN Commission on Human Rights. He was educated in Economics in Cambridge University (U.K.) and the Universiti Sains Malaysia, and has authored many books and papers on trade, sustainable development, intellectual property rights, and development.

Byron Blake is an Ambassador to the UN from his home of Jamaica, and serves as a Special Adviser to the current President of the UN General Assembly, Miguel D'Escoto-Brockmann. Blake served at CARICOM (Caribbean Community Secretariat) for almost 30 years, before leaving his position as Assistant Secretary-General, in charge of trade and economic integration. He has also served as an Ambassador to the UN for the government of Antigua and Barbuda, at which time he served as a spokesperson for the G-77 + China, a diverse group of developing countries making up the UN's largest voting bloc. Blake has a Master's Degree in Economics from the University of the West Indies.