Opening Remarks by the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ms Sue van der Merwe on the Occasion of the Planning Seminar to prepare for the South African Chairship of the Group of 77 in 2006, Pretoria, 11 December 2005

Your Excellency Ambassador Neil
Your Excellency Ambassador Al-Nasser
Mr Amia, Executive Secretary
Your Excellencies
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is an honour for me to open this workshop, which aims to carry out some of the groundwork, as we prepare for the responsibility of chairing the Group of 77 and China (G77) in 2006.

As is the normal practice, Minister Dlamini Zuma, who unfortunately cannot be with us today, requested that we convene this meeting to prepare a national strategy for our role as chair of the G-77 and China in 2006.

In this engagement, we will hear from those that have held the role of Chair before us. We will learn about the challenges they have encountered; and their accounts of these experiences will help to give us the institutional memory that we need so as to make our own contribution to this important multilateral structure.

We salute the outgoing chair, Jamaica, for the solid contribution that this country has made during its tenure. We shall continue from where you have left off, armed with this rich legacy and thus be fully prepared to take on the challenges of the new year.

It is indeed a huge responsibility. We are privileged as a young democracy to be bestowed with such a mammoth task in leading an organization that has played such a significant role in matters of global governance for over four decades and still remains an active champion of the aspirations of the South and all its peoples.

Yet it offers us challenges that we are willing to accept and take upon our own shoulders, since South Africa in the first decade of democracy has and still favours a multilateral approach to international affairs and to the problems besetting the world. Multilateralism for us is both a theory and a practice, which we take very seriously.

In a world of rapid and rampant globalization where the economic gap between the rich and the poor of the world has widened in recent years and continues to do so, we believe that we have no option but to defend the agenda of developing nations and to ensure that all our voices are heard and taken seriously - amid the hustle and bustle of global business asserting itself through new technologies to the far reaches of the world - and at the mere press of a button.

As the developing world, in this uncertain and ever-changing reality, the time has come for us to assert what we stand for and how, we believe, the world should work, how its politics and economics should be run. We should use every opportunity to assert our views and to build a more inclusive world.

The priority of bringing an end to poverty and of attaining sustained development on a world scale is what we desire for ourselves and for every other human being.

World progress must also come to mean human progress and the construction of a more humane and caring world.

The world has changed a great deal since the Group of 77 was founded in 1964 under the aegis of the United Nations. In 1964 the concern was for the establishment of a new international economic order as the key to transforming the global exercise of power.

I beg your indulgence as I look back at the achievements that the G77 has made thus far. It is important to reflect, since this gives us as South Africa a better understanding of where we need to go and what we need to do to make a success out of our stewardship of this historic structure.

  • The G77, in our view, has made a notable contribution to the effective functioning of the United Nations and can legitimately claim a large part of the credit for the UN system moving towards a global governance system in the economic and social fields.

  • The G77 has been a bulwark against the tyranny of global elitism and unilateralism and has promoted an evolving culture of multilateralism in global governance.

  • The international system of states unfortunately has been characterized by divisions along the lines of North and South. The strength of the G77 has been to inculcate unity and cohesion within the community of nations founded on the principle of peaceful interdependence.

  • The G77 since its foundation has been guided by the vision of fair and equitable multilateral relations as well as a commitment by its members to the wellbeing of the marginalized peoples of the South and their strong belief in mutually beneficial co-operation.

At each moment in time, we have, together as a community of nations, realized that we need each other to survive and that the sustained progress of one nation depends on the support of others. Mutual interdependence is the only way we can build a better future for the peoples of the world and a peaceful approach to global governance is the only way we can safeguard our future.

We have come a long way since 1964 and I think that we have a lot to show for this. It was only thirty years later in 1994 that South Africa would hold its first democratic elections and lay down the foundations for a new non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa. This victory for Africa and for the anti-apartheid movement all over the world was one of a number of changes in Africa in the context of the second wave of democracy to sweep the African continent.

Today on this continent this growing trend towards democratization and good governance continues apace despite problems that persist in some places. At present we stand at the threshold of having the first elected woman President on the African continent, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in Liberia.

In the current climate, the South as a whole is also making rapid progress. Countries of the South, such as China and India, are beginning to occupy the driving seat in the world economy, achieving unprecedented high rates of growth that appear to be increasing overall with every passing year.

These are significant developments, which cannot be ignored and are forcing a serious rethink of the long held myth that certain chosen states are destined to be better than the rest.

At the same time, colleagues, despite this phenomenal growth, we cannot ignore the developmental challenges that continue to face us.

Today, the world is beset by acute economic and social challenges, many of them structural in nature. Moreover, international economic relations continue to be marked by uncertainty, imbalances and recessions - with the marginalization of developing countries and the least developed amongst them.

The G77 plus China has continued to express its deep concern with regard to the tendency by developed countries to take decisions that affect the world economy outside the multilateral framework of the United Nations system and without giving full consideration to the interests of developing countries.

In the face of this growing unilateralism, the G77 and China will continue to campaign for the strengthening of the multilateral system within the context of a reformed United Nations.

As South Africa, like other countries, we looked forward to the Millennium Review Summit with much anticipation. For us, as with many other marginalized nations, 2005 was meant to be an extremely important year for reform and the Summit was seen to be a determining factor in the future of global governance.

Naturally, we were extremely disappointed at the outcome of the 60th session of the UN General Assembly. Yet again because of narrow interests, an opportunity to reform the current global governance system was lost. This loss was in favour of preserving the status quo at the expense of the needs and aspirations of the peoples of the South.

Despite this setback, we shall continue to harness our collective strength to use every available opportunity, every international platform, to persuade others to see our way of thinking, the merits of our viewpoints and the prosperous future this promises for the world.

Therefore, as South Africa we shall use the opportunity that members of the G77 and China have given us to make our own contribution to guide the organization for 2006 and to take forward the vision we share of a more inclusive world.

As we stated in our acceptance speech on the occasion of South Africa's election to the Chair of the G77 and China, in New York in September this year:

" South Africa is committed to a just and equitable global economic order as well as the achievement of sustainable development. We will spare no effort to actively pursue the needs and aspirations of developing countries to ensure that we harness the opportunities for developing countries and enhance the momentum arising out of the 2005 High Level Summit.

South Africa will continue to reiterate the importance of maintaining a balanced approach in addressing security and development. The success in taking development forward will depend not only on political support but also in making certain that there are adequate and reliable resources for addressing the permanent threat posed by underdevelopment."

We therefore remain strong in our conviction that the United Nations is the primary multilateral organ for global governance and will work together with our partners in this regard.

As this planning workshop proceeds, it may be useful to look at some of these issues that I now will mention simply in passing. These are the main areas that I think we will need to concentrate our energies on as we take over the Chair.

  • Firstly, the revitalisation and reform of the United Nations remain the primary objectives of the G77 and China.

    • We therefore welcome the Swedish initiated follow-up process to finalise and implement the 2005 Millennium Review Summit Outcome.

    • As you are aware, South Africa has been invited to join a core group of Member States to lead this process, including co-chairing the informal consultations on the establishment of the Human Rights Council. We will continue our active and positive engagement in these efforts.

  • Working together as peoples of the South in co-operation with the nations of the North is of critical importance as we seek to achieve a more equitable and just world order.
    • What is needed today is a genuine global partnership. It is only in this spirit that the challenges of today and those of the years to come can be resolved.

    • As a follow-up to the Millennium Review Summit of September 2005, 2006 will be a year in which developing countries will need to act firmly in collective solidarity if we are to succeed in truly and firmly placing development implementation at the centre of all United Nations activities.

    • Our task will be to help to build consensus and to put forward our position as the G77 and China at meetings to which this structure will need to send representation. The G8 meeting is one such important gathering.

  • Another important matter is how we work together towards reclaiming development during the current WTO Doha Development Round prior to its planned completion in 2007. Certainly the forthcoming Ministerial meeting in Hong Kong will help to take further current areas of concern to the developing world. We believe that an early conclusion of the current round of the Doha negotiations, consistent with the mandate agreed in Doha, would deliver the best context for the development outcome.

  • On the important issue of the environment, we will continue to promote the view that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol have established multilateral mechanisms, policies and measures critical for the future of the world. In this regard we will not shy away from taking the responsibility for effective stewardship of our resources and we shall take a leadership role to contribute towards the realization of this vision.

  • Working together with our North and South partners, our task is also to prepare for the follow-up to the Monterrey Consensus Meeting that will be held in Doha, Qatar in 2007.

On the whole, we pledge as South Africa to do the best that we can to attain our collective goal of a just and inclusive world.

I have outlined some of the most important issues that we will have to deal with as we assume the Chair. This workshop will, no doubt, expand on this and other important matters facing all of us.

Once more, we thank the Excellencies from Jamaica and Quatar and from the G77 Secretariat for their willingness to share their experiences and ideas with us.

I wish you well in your deliberations. Let us use this opportunity to pave the way for a fruitful 2006.

I thank you.


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2003 Department of Foreign Affairs, Republic of South Africa