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Nine months since the United States began pumping billions of dollars into its troubled banks and the consequences of the crisis continue to spread across the globe. While the leaders of the G-20 came to some agreements in London in early April, many world leaders are not comfortable being spoken for by the world’s largest economies. Enter the UN General Assembly’s Conference on the Economic Crisis. “I believe the rationale for this conference is the democratization of the discussion,” says Martin Khor, Executive Director of The South Centre. Proponents of the conference have referred to it as the G-192, in reference to the refusal to exclude any UN members from the event, in contrast to the G-20. But with both groups trying to claim ownership over the term ‘global’ Western leaders have sought to sabotage the G-192.

Story Transcript

G-20 or G-192: What’s more ‘global’?
Producer: Jesse Freeston

GORDON BROWN, UK PRIME MINISTER: We believe that in this new global age our prosperity is indivisible. We believe that global problems require global solutions.

JESSE FREESTON, TRNN: But what would a global solution look like? When the leaders of the G-20 met in London in April, they labeled the gathering as a global response to a global crisis.

BROWN: This is the day that the world came together to fight back against the global recession not with words but with a plan for global recovery and for reform.

FREESTON: For those leaders who felt that 20 governments are not enough to merit the term “global”, the UN General Assembly held a three-day summit on the economic crisis. Here, invitations were offered to each of the UN’s 192 members, as well as an array of civil society organizations, to join in forming a coordinated response to the crisis.

MIGUEL D’ESCOTO BROCKMAN, PRESIDENT, UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): As great as the danger we all face from the convergence of various problems is, the opportunity for salvation that the global crisis is helping us—or forcing us—to discover is even greater. We have built a globalized economy. Now is our chance to create a globalized policy and ethics based on the many cultural experiences and traditions of our peoples.

MARTIN KHOR, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, THE SOUTH CENTRE: But the G-20, it’s not a legitimate organization, in the sense that it does not represent the countries. It’s a self-appointed group. And many countries that I spoke to, they say, “We don’t feel represented in the G-20, and our views are not represented there, and the decisions have nothing to do with us.” So there is a feeling, actually of being left out, of being excluded. And this is why the General Assembly decided to hold this meeting, in the sense that if 20 countries can sit down and discuss what’s wrong and what to do, so can 192 countries.

AMBASSADOR BYRON BLAKE, SPECIAL ADVISER TO PRES. OF GEN. ASSEMBLY: First of all, the funny notion of a world of 20—that is a small portion of the world. The fundamental difference is that the G-20 can see the crisis as a crisis affecting the financial sector, and therefore their response was how do you fix the financial sector. And to this day, their mandate is still largely [inaudible] to the financial sector. Also, the G-20 conception was that they think it’s only peripherally affecting the developing countries, it really is affecting the developed countries, and therefore the solution must be in the developed countries. This conference is making it clear that the impact is much more on the developing countries, which had nothing to do with the origin of the crisis. But they are the one picking up the real hard impacts of it.

KHOR: The crisis is going to be with us for some time. And the longer it is, the more desperate the situation will be for the developing countries. And you see the kind of measures that you can take in the United States, like bailouts, you know, like guaranteeing the banks, fiscal stimulus. But a US can find the money, and even go into debt and print money, in order to do these things. For most developing countries, they just can’t do it. But they are suffering the collateral damage of a crisis that they did not create. And at the same time, they don’t have a forum, until today, until this conference, to be able to voice their problems, to be able to come up with proposals, suggestions on how the world should be helping them to get out of this crisis and on how we should reform the world financial system so that it won’t happen again. And I think this is the rationale for this conference, that the UN General Assembly is trying to democratize the discussion and the decisions relating to this crisis.

D’ESCOTO: It’s neither humane nor responsible to build a Noah’s Ark only to save the existing economic system, leaving the vast majority of humanity to their fate, to suffer the negative effects of a system that was imposed by an irresponsible but powerful minority.

BLAKE: The developed countries were absolutely opposed to any such conference which will be looking at the fundamental structures. As a result of which, they compromised and said that they were prepared to have a conference at the highest levels to look at the financial and economic crisis and its impact on development. The developing countries accepted that as a last resort, because they really wanted to be looking more fundamentally at the structural issues which was keeping them in really under development and also was making all the efforts more and more impossible. That said, the developed countries, they interpreted and decided that they did not want this conference to be at the level of heads of government, where they could be looking at fundamental issues. They wanted it to be at the level of development. And, therefore, they decided that they would only send their development ministers. If you notice, a number of developed countries in Europe are represented by their ministers for development.

D’ESCOTO: There’s no better place than the UN General Assembly room to do this. This is the room of world democratic inclusiveness par excellence, the headquarters of the G-192.

FREESTON: While the UN General Assembly is undeniably more inclusive than the G-20, it has flaws of its own. Most of the talk inside the UN compound refers to countries and national interests. But what about people, especially those who don’t feel that their interests are being represented by their governments? Should they be angry about this crisis and how it’s being handled?

BLAKE: It is almost impossible to ask them not to be angry and to say that they would not be angry. It is a crisis which is affecting all countries and people in all countries, so that when we say that people should be angry, we’re not just saying that people in the developing countries should be angry; the people in developed countries should be, and you’re seeing that they are angry. What it also means now is that it’s not that the developing countries or people in developing countries can be angry with people in the developed countries, because the people in developed countries are also suffering; it’s that all people, they should have to be angry about the system which allows that kind of thing to take place, and therefore justify the need for really changing the system fundamentally going forward.

FREESTON: On the final day, the participants unanimously adopted an outcome document that called for, among other things, immediate reform of the World Bank and the IMF to allow for greater participation of developing countries, as well as the creation of a new UN working group to take on a greater role in the international response to the crisis. Delegations were then given a few minutes to explain their vote from the floor of the General Assembly. The vast majority used their opportunity to criticize the document for being too timid in its demands, urging the working group to advance more drastic changes in the future. By contrast, two delegations—Canada and the US—sought to strip the document of its force. Their message: leave the economics to the adults.

US REPRESENTATIVE (UNIDENTIFIED): The international financial institutions have governance structures set out in their respective articles of agreement that are independent of the United Nations. Any decisions on reform of the international financial institutions or the matters in which they conduct their business can only be made by their shareholders and their respective boards of governors. Consequently, my government does not interpret the language in this document as endorsing a formal United Nations role in decisions affecting the international financial institutions or the international financial architecture.

CANADIAN REPRESENTATIVE (UNIDENTIFIED): We are very supportive of the role of the UN in discussing the economic and financial crisis and its impact on development. However, several paragraphs in the document delve into internal issues in the international financial institutions, which have distinct governance structures charged with oversight of their policies and decision-making. As a result, Canada does not interpret these paragraphs as endorsing any formal role for the United Nations in these ongoing processes of reform, which are taking place independently according to these institutions’ respective mandates.

US REPRESENTATIVE (UNIDENTIFIED): In order to be useful and productive, the working-group process called for in Paragraph 54 must be based on the strengths of the United Nations, which lie in its broad development mandate and large field presence. 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. Mr. President, thank you very much.

FREESTON: So why are the two North American countries so concerned about opening up the debate over global financial reform? In Part Two, we’ll look at exactly how the discussion around global economics changes when the group of invitees is expanded from 20 to 192.


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.