HC Deb 07 December 1977 vol 940 cc724-8W
Mr. Wrigglesworth

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what was the outcome of the latest session of the United Nations negotiating conference on a common fund.

Mr. Dell

The second session of the United Nations negotiating conference on a common fund was held in Geneva from 7th November to 1st December. The session was suspended at the request of the developing countries—the Group of 77—one day before its scheduled end. The developed countries of Group B, in expressing their regret at this decision, made clear their readiness to continue the negotiations as soon as all groups can agree to do so.

In his concluding remarks, the chairman of the conference, Ambassador Walker of Jamaica, commented that the Group of 77 did not regard the suspension as a final breakdown and recommended that preparations for a resumed session should be set urgently in hand.

At the outset of the session, the developed countries collectively put forward positive proposals reflecting a substantial advance in their thinking since the first round of negotiations in March. In subsequent discussion they indicated some important areas of flexibility in their position. We believe that the Group B proposal provides a basis for a satisfactory consensus reflecting the major concerns of all participants: and we hope that the Group of 77 will be prepared to resume negotiations in this spirit, recognising that compromise will be necessary in order to achieve a successful outcome. In the meantime, we for our part will work with our partners in the European Community and in Group B as a whole for a resumption of negotiations at the earliest possible date.

I am placing in the Library of the House copies of:

  1. (a) proposals circulated at the outset of the recent session by Group B and by the Group of 77, respectively;
  2. (b) statements delivered in plenary on 7th, 8th and 18th November on behalf of each of these groups; and
  3. (c) separate statements delivered in the final plenary on behalf of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Austria, Turkey, the Netherlands and Denmark.

Following are the texts of the statements delivered in the final plenary meeting on behalf of the Group of 77 and Group B, respectively.


On behalf of the Group of 77, I would like to thank you for convening this plenary meeting at our request. You will recall that yesterday I informed you of the unanimous decision taken by the Group of 77 to call for a suspension of this Session of the Conference, and requested you to convey this to the other Groups and China. I take the floor now to move a formal proposal to this effect. The Group of 77 has been compelled to take this serious step, after the most careful consideration, because of the unwillingness of some developed countries to agree to even the fundamental aspects of a Common Fund consistent with the objectives of the integrated programme for commodities.

Throughout this Conference, we have demonstrated our determination to explore every possible avenue in the search for a basis on which meaningful negotiations could commence. Aware of the wide gap between the positions of the different Groups, the Group of 77 identified certain fundamental aspects which we felt should be agreed upon so that further negotiations could proceed within a clearly established network. This proposal by the Group of 77 was accepted by all Groups, and the discussions in the Committee of the whole were structured with this purpose in mind. When the Debates in the Committee of the whole did not produce any progress on these fundamental aspects, we made a statement in plenary at the mid-point of this Session of the Conference voicing our grave disquiet over these developments. A further attempt was made in the framework of the extended bureau under your Chairmanship which lasted for another week. When this failed to move positions any closer, the Group of 77 agreed to enter into yet another round of informal consultations at the request of Group B. The result, after four intensive Sessions, is well known to all of us. In all these attempts, Mr. President, we recognised your own untiring and laudable efforts, and would like to take this occasion to thank you for them.

The proceedings so far have led us to the unavoidable conclusion that the main obstacle is not technical but political. It stems from the unwillingness of certain developed countries to agree to even the fundamental aspects of a Common Fund which would make it a key instrument of the integrated programme for commodities. This attitude is indeed in clear contradiction to the commitments made by some of these countries themselves at CIEC in Paris. These commitments explicitly provided for a Common Fund as a new entity capable of serving as a key instrument in achieving the agreed objectives of the integrated programme for commodities. They certainly could not imply a passive and residual arrangement, severely limited in its scope, intended to facilitate the financing of buffer stocks only, and completely dependent for its resources on deposits by ICAS, as contained in the present Group B proposal.

We therefore believe that it is utterly futile to continue until all the developed countries take the necessary policy decisions in fulfilment of their commitments.

Mr. President, the Group of 77 remains committed to the establishment of a Common Fund that will constitute the central and integrating element providing operational strength to the integrated programme for commodities and at the same time express the global solidarity of all countries, developed and developing, producers and consumers, in finding comprehensive solutions to the problems of a wide range of commodities of particular importance to developing countries. The Group of 77 remains ready and willing to negotiate if and when the attitude of the developed countries is such as to inspire confidence that the negotiations will lead to a successful outcome.

Mr. President, permit me finally to extend once more our deepest appreciation to China and all other countries which have been consistent in their support for the position of the Group of 77.


The distinguished Ambassador of Yugoslavia has just made an important statement, on behalf of the Group of 77, to which we have all, I am sure, listened carefully.

In the name of the Group of 77 Ambassador Lalovic has requested that this session of the Conference be suspended.

Group B accedes to that request, but it does so with regret.

With regret, Mr. Chairman, on three main grounds:

Firstly, because for the moment the opportunity of making a major step forward in these negotiations for the establishment of the Common Fund has been lost:

Secondly, because all countries regard these negotiations as of prime importance in the implementation of the IPC: and

Thirdly, because we came to this Conference determined to honour the commitment, given at the CIEC in Paris in June of this year, to establish a Common Fund to serve as a key instrument in attaining the agreed objectives of the IPC as embodied in UNCTAD Resolution 93(IV).

At the outset of this Session of the Conference Group B tabled a positive and constructive proposal for a Common Fund in keeping with that commitment given in Paris.

We explained, Mr. Chairman, that our proposal contains two new and key elements. First it has, as a central feature, a major new commitment by Group B governments—and that is a readines in our capacity as members of ICAS to place at the disposal of those agreements part of our borrowing capability.

Second, we have proposed that we should reach agreement in the context of these negotiations on the Common Fund on the joint responsibilities of producers and consumers for the financing of buffer stocks within the framework of ICAS.

Our statements in the Plenary Session of this Conference, the Committee of the whole and what we have said in less formal negotiating groups have shown clearly our flexibility on many issues.

It has been suggested, Mr. Chairman, that nothing has been achieved in our work together over the last few weeks. We do not share that view. My own contracts, formal and informal, with our negotiating partners in other groups, have encouraged me to believe that some real progress has been made towards closer mutual understanding. I submit that the importance of the proposal we made at the outset is reflected in the degree of agreement which has emerged so far.

First, I believe that we have all come increasingly to recognise that the elements of any consensus on the substance of the Fund must be interdependent—they will stand or fall together as part of a package which must involve movement on all sides. Second, we have made a start in identifying the elements which could form part of such a package. A satisfactory settlement on the financial structure of the Fund, and on the issue of other measures, is clearly fundamental. But in addition I think we are already agreed that:

  1. (a) A commitment on the joint responsibility of producers and consumers for buffer stock financing in the ICAS is a key element in our thinking—and we for our part have made clear that any such commitment would be directly linked to our own proposal for a Fund based on ICAS:
  2. (b) The Fund will, require substantial cash deposits (which we have proposed should be from ICAS) as the basis for its operations:
  3. (c) The Fund should have the capability for substantial borrowing on the market, consistent with the fundamental viability both of the ICAS and of the Common Fund itself.

In identifying these elements of potential consensus, we in no way desire to ignore or gloss over the issues on which there remain major differences between us. It would not I believe be helpful, Mr. Chairman—nor would it contribute towards the resumption of productive negotiations—to repeat here in detail what has already been said in negotiation on behalf of Group B on these key issues. But I would like to make two general comments. On other measures, we have consistently said that our minds are not closed: and we have made clear that we would be prepared to consider a rôle for the Fund in this area providing we can agree together on its broad overall objectives and modalities. Concerning Government contributions, we are all agreed that the Fund will in one way or another receive substantial financial support from Governments: the issue is the channel through which that support should come—and whether the prime responsibility for buffer stock financing should rest, as Group B firmly believe, on the producing and consuming countries concerned.

It has always been our belief, Mr. Chairman, that these differences can only be resolved through negotiations. We had hoped to build in the present negotiating Session on the elements of consensus to which I have referred, and so to provide an agreed text which would have been a stimulus and a framewrk for our future work. We regret that this has not been possible.

It is no secret, Mr. Chairman, that there is a range of views within Group B, including views closely aligned to those of the Group of 77. Nothing I have said today in any way prejudices existing national positions, which are on public record. But we all recognise the need to achieve consensus within Groups as well as between groups: and that such consensus is essential for the creation of an effective Common Fund.

Group B, for its part, Mr. Chairman, has always been ready and willing to negotiate. All our Governments will need a period for reflection in the light of the position taken up in the course of our work at this Session. But for our part, Group B remains ready to continue these negotiations as soon as all groups can agree to do so. And we assure you, Mr. Chairman, that in the meantime we shall press work ahead within our Group on the outstanding issues before us in this Conference. We all recognise the importance in the broader context of the north-south dialogue of our common efforts to establish a viable organisation able to play a useful rôle in international commodity trade.

Finally, Mr. Chairman, I would like to express to you personally my thanks—and those of Group B as a whole—for the efforts which you have made, especially during the last few days, to try to ensure that there would be a fruitful outcome to this Session. Moreover, Mr. Chairman, as most people here know already, you will shortly be leaving Geneva to return to your own country to assume an important financial post. You will take with you our very best wishes for your success in that new assignment.