Africa Well Set At UN Conference

Nusa Dua, Bali — Discussions on Africa at the United Nations' final preparatory meeting for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), being held on the Indonesian island of Bali, appear to be heading for a "very positive outcome", says a senior South African official.

Four days into the UN conference, delegates are locked in "contact group" negotiations to resolve several sticking points that have emerged, including disputes over corporate accountability, energy, water, sanitation, trade and finance, and agricultural subsidies.

The meetings are closed to the media.

According to the head of the South African delegation, environmental affairs director-general Dr Chippy Olver, deal-making on many of the issues is likely to continue past Friday, the day the UN hopes a revised version of the so-called Chairman's Text will emerge from the process.

The text -- expected to be endorsed by heads of state at the WSSD in Johannesburg later this year -- is a plan of action for countries to curb the over-exploitation of the earth's natural resources and to find a better way of managing development.

"The deal-making process that will start on Friday could well go through the night, and continue through the day on Saturday and into that night as well.

"I don't know if we will complete the process by the end of the weekend," Olver told Sapa on Thursday.

He foresaw "one or two sticking points" carrying over into the conference's second and final week, in which the high-level ministerial portion of the event is scheduled to take place.

"When the ministers arrive, they will probably be left with two or three strategic areas in which a deal has to be cut," Olver said.

He was up-beat, however, about discussions on Africa, saying these were "going quite well".

"It looks like on Africa, particularly because of the build up to the G8 meeting, a lot of the developed countries... are quite keen to make a very positive outcome on the Africa chapter, which we're very happy about."

One point of concern was that other regions, particularly Latin America, were coming up with their own initiatives.

"But I'm not too worried this will eclipse the focus on Africa, because the process we've got going at heads-of-state level, the work that's gone into Nepad, all of this has laid an incredibly solid basis and I don't think any other region's got... anything to (compete) against that," he said.

South Africa itself had six main focus areas -- water and sanitation; energy; health, food security, education; and technology -- and Olver said he wanted to see these included in the revised Chairman's Text.

"We need to get a basic set of things into the text, and on the basis of that launch initiatives."

Asked if this would include specific targets for each of the six, he said: "Yes, that is precisely what we want."

Olver said sticking points among delegates included the issue of good governance.

"There are quite a few developing countries who think that what is being proposed on good governance on a national level is going to be used as 'conditionalities', which will be imposed on them by the North.

"Clearly we're going to have to work through this issue, because sound governance is fundamental to sustainable development."

There were also sticking points around energy, water and sanitation.

"In particular developed countries are trying to back off on any target on sanitation... the sticking point on water is to what extent we launch a global programme of action.

"This target was agreed in the Millennium Declaration -- I think the developed countries would like to back out of that if they could. They are now questioning whether one needs a global programme of action."

He said this was the result of a "complete difference of approach" on the part of some developed countries.

"Particularly Japan, the United States, Canada and Australia; it's part of their intrinsic antipathy to the multilaterals.

"I don't think they believe the UN system can co-ordinate and deliver implementation, and while they're happy with broad normative statements of intent, they're more prepared to say 'we will support', rather than 'we will implement'."

Asked what type of agreement South Africa would like to see emerge from the Bali conference, Olver said this would have to include a framework for implementation.

"This has got to include, at a high level, a global target, a broad outline of the resource strategy, private sector investment, trade benefits, technology issues, and finance issues.

"It's got to have some mechanism by which progress is going to be monitored... so that you're able to assess how things are working.

"It's also got to have some reference to governance arrangements, and at the very least it's got to talk about what would be an enabling environment to allow initiatives and partnerships, within that broad framework, to take place."

Among other things, South Africa was hoping to see a set of forward-looking deals on trade, finance, technology, debt relief and technology transfer.

Asked if there was any likelihood of unresolved issues being carried through to the Johannesburg summit, Olver said: "We would like to get closure on the Chairman's Text, and I think most countries are quite committed to that."

However, there remained a possibility some areas would be bracketed, "but we're going to work very hard to avoid that".

"We would also like to see a strong political declaration... although would like that this be left slightly open so that heads of state (at the Johannesburg summit) could use it as a mobilisation excercise," he said.

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