11 June 2002

South Africa: Civil Society Groups Upset By Split in Bali on Trade And Finance

Johannesburg — GOVERNMENT was not phased yesterday by the failure in Bali last week of delegates and ministers from a string of countries to agree on key aspects of the World Summit on Sustainable Development .

But organisations representing civil society were "disheartened", saying failure to reach agreement at the last preparatory meeting before the summit, "raised questions" about the summit.

If the disagreements are not resolved in Johannesburg in August, it will mean that the much-vaunted summit could well turn out to be yet another talk shop.

"This means it is imperative that civil society attends the summit to help drum up global support for the struggle against environmental and social injustice," said Earthlife Africa representative Muna Lakhani.

On Saturday in Bali, ministers and civil society representatives of more than 170 countries did not agree on financial details of future trade and financing provisions after the summit. They agreed only that the Johannesburg summit should focus on social and economic development and environmental protection, remaining vague on financing commitments and target dates.

The stalemate on trade and financing provisions boiled down to developing nations insisting that strategies to reduce poverty should not ignore "the basic causes of poverty", such as unfair trade.

World Conservation Union director Saliem Fakir said a bloc of developed nations felt that Monterrey, rather than the Johannesburg summit, was the appropriate forum for trade issues. "The US, in particular, says don't bring the World Trade Organisation into this summit."

Environmental affairs and tourism department spokesman Onkgopotse Tabane said developing nations insisted in Bali that to halve poverty by 2015 a resolution taken at the Rio Summit a decade ago the causes of poverty must be heeded. These included unfair terms of trade and lack of international market access for agricultural products. But he said the lack of agreement was of no real consequence for the summit.

Environmental Affairs and Tourism Minister Valli Moosa attended the summit with three other SA ministers.

Fakir said lack of agreement on a key issue could lead to "watering down of the text" at the end of the summit for the sake of consensus.

Earthlife Africa branch co-ordinator Richard Worthington warned that pressure on heads of states at the summit was now "much greater than before. It is very disappointing that such important detail couldn't be settled (in Bali). It will now become a major area of focus in August."

At the heart of the dispute in Bali lay the developing world's contention that to bring down poverty in the world it was necessary for developed nations to indicate "who and how the good intentions would be financed".

Worthington said since the lofty ideals at Rio a decade ago, the US had "not come close to a quarter of undertakings made at the time. The four developed countries have been resisting setting targets and committing to specific programmes all along."

Lakhani, who attended part of the Bali proceedings, said the attitude of the US, Canada, Australia and Japan was: "We don't care what happens to people, as long as we continue to make a profit."

"This is particularly shortsighted. It is this very profit drive to the exclusion of all else that got the world in the mess it is in at the moment in the first place."

The aim of the preparatory Bali meeting, which began two weeks ago, was to wrap-up an official agenda and draw up a consensus document to show the need for global partnerships to achieve sustainable development. Other aims were to "reconfirm" the need for an integrated and focused approach and to pinpoint the main challenges faced by the international community regarding sustainable development.

SA would continue with "informal consultations" with other nations on the areas of disagreement in the next three months before the summit. The setback in Bali would make for "very interesting" debate, Worthington said.

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