Will the Cancun summit meeting of northern and southern nations disappear into history as yet another unsung event, all sound and fury signifying nothing? Or will it start a process of constructive dialogue between rich and poor nations, leading to greater economic opportunities and shared prosperity? I believe that at least three steps are necessary for the Cancun summit to succeed.
First, there must be a shared political perception at Cancun that economic prosperity of all nations is closely interlinked. The economic recovery and financial health of the Third World must become a matter of more than casual interest to the industrial nations once they recognize that over one-third of their exports are purchased by the developing countries, their capital markets nervously watch over $300 billion of debt in the Third World, and their private sector has several hundred billions in investments at risk in poor nations.
At the same time, the developing countries have a vested interest in a quick turnaround in the economic fortunes of the rich nations, since this would expand their own markets and their sources of capital funds.
Second, the summit must descend quickly from political rhetoric to concrete proposals. There are many areas in which it is possible to reach agreement on a fairly specific agenda in the best interest of all nations. For instance:
Oil-importing developing countries need to triple their investment from $20 billion to $60 billion a year over the next 10 years to expand their energy production. These are extremely high-return investments for all sides.
The developing countries must increase their food production by at least 4 percent a year over the next 10 years (compared with 2.5 percent over the last two decades) to reduce their unsustainable dependence on food imports. Besides considerable effort on their own part, this requires a near doubling of present external investment of about $5 billion a year which, again, carries a high return for all sides.
The poorest developing nations also need some short-term protection against periodic food shortages. In a tight international market, the poor nations should have access to some ready cash (from the proposed International Monetary Fund Food Facility) as well as physical reserves (at least 10 million tons) available at reasonable prices and repayable in a reasonable period.
The developing countries face rising current account deficits, already exceeding $80 to $90 billion a year. They desperately need international liquidity. Since the surplus countries choose to hold their liquidity primarily in dollars, there is automatic lending to the richest country of the world, rather than to poor deficit countries. There is, as such, an urgent need to enlarge even further the role of the IMF (to supplement that of the commercial banks) in providing balance-of-payments support to the developing countries.
We must seek realistic ways to expand assistance to low-and middle- income developing countries without putting pressure on the overstretched budgets of the nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. For example, only one- third of their current concessional assistance is actually going to low-income countries. Why not reallocate this concessional assistance primarily to the genuinely needy nations, compensate middle-income countries by the expansion of World Bank lending (maybe $2 for every dollar of concessional assistance loss) and thus serve the diversified interests of all nations, without costing the OECD budgets a penny more?
In the trade area, the real question is how to translate the broad agreement on the principles of liberal trade environment and opening up of markets into practice when the multifiber agreement or agreements on other quantitative trade barriers are actually negotiated.
It would be unrealistic to expect instant decisions at Cancun on these proposals. But it should be possible to agree on concrete objectives in each area and to refer the specific proposals to various negotiating forums. After a modest start, more fundamental issues can be taken up in later years.
Finally, the success of the Cancun summit will hinge on the process of negotiation it starts. So far, both sides have been trying to pull the negotiations into forums where they enjoy a majority--either numerical or weighted. It is time for a new beginning that overcomes the anxieties and suspicions on both sides. One possible way to break the deadlock is to:
Institutionalize annual north- south summits, with half of their membership permanent and the other half rotating.
Set up ad hoc forums of 15 to 20 concerned nations to discuss and agree on specific policy options in each area.
Use annual summits to break any political deadlock that arises and the U.N. General Assembly for ratification or modification of the agreements once reached.
Such a procedure will provide an overall political framework for global negotiations, continuity and linkage in various steps over time and productive negotiations in functional forums while ensuring universal participation in approval of agreements.